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May 29, 2012

Graeter’s Ice Cream

ooey, gooey ice cream

My friend Abigail is the world’s biggest Graeter’s Ice Cream fan, and talks about it all the time. If you want to make her happy, get her Graeter’s. If you’ve made her sad, all will be forgiven, with the appropriate quantity of Graeter’s.  So when Graeter’s offered to send me some ice cream for review… I threw her an ice cream party.

It actually became party / taste test, with 8 pints in competition, with some mango sorbet to cleanse the palate.  9 of my lovely knitters took up the challenge. The competitors —

Team Graeter’s: Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Mint Chocolate Chip, Vanilla Chocolate Chip, and the anchor, Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip.

the reigning champions

Team Takedown: Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Wawa Black Raspberry Chip, Haagen Dazs Coffee (not shown), and Jeni’s Buckeye State.

the challengers

For a baseline, I asked everyone what their childhood favorite flavors were. Two chose black raspberry chip and one was a pistachio fan.  I was baffled, thinking they were rather adult flavors.  All three said, “it’s because purple/green was my favorite color as a kid.” (Clearly, Maggie Moo’s is onto something with their crazy colors of ice cream.) Other picks: rocky road, 2 mint chocolate chips, vanilla, cookies and cream, anything with chocolate and peanut butter, and the classic twist cone.

In the present day, the tasting was fast and furious, with multiple rounds including toppings towards the end. It would be fair to say that Graeter’s crushed the competition. If you are a chocolate chip fan, you’re going to be in heaven. If you’re not, these chips could change your mind. Graeter’s had smooth, large chocolate chips, with excellent flavor. Haagen-Dazs chips were smaller, chalkier and very crunchy. On the black raspberry, Beth said, “The Wawa ice cream was fine, nice even, before I tasted the Graeter’s.” After tasting the Graeter’s, the Wawa pales in comparison (literally.)

Head to head flavor shots, clockwise from top left: Graeter’s chocolate chocolate chip, Haagen Dazs chocolate chocolate chip, Wawa black raspberry chip, Graeter’s black raspberry chip.

head to head

The winner(s): Graeter’s black raspberry chip! 50% of the knitters picked this as their favorite. Graeter’s chocolate chocolate chip was right behind, with 4 votes.  Jeni’s Buckeye State also got some mentions.  All 3 pints were completely finished.

The instigator: The Graeter’s mint chocolate chip caused the most agitation, with some folks declaring it minty enough to taint an entire bowl, and others declaring it disappointingly under-minty.  (Personally, it was my second favorite after chocolate-chocolate chip.)

The loser: Wawa black raspberry chip. Maybe it was the pale pink hue, or the light smattering of chips, but it’s the one pint that no one went back for seconds from after having a taste.

The big surprises: Who knew black raspberry chip was so popular?  Am I living in an ice cream bubble? Also, people like gummy bears on mango sorbet.

The best news: You don’t eat your ice cream in head to head comparisons very often. So, by the time I get to finishing the remaining pints, they will all taste delicious.  Great ice cream is amazing, but even mediocre ice cream is pretty good.

nora tastes

Graeter’s is now available in the Philadelphia area at Weis grocery stores for, I am told, $4.95 per pint, or online for substantially more.

(Disclosure: Graeter’s provided their ice cream for free. The other ice cream I bought. The opinions are mine or my tasters alone. Opinions of pre-verbal tasters not included.)

April 26, 2010

In praise of wedding cupcakes

Hey, folks, I’m back!  Super tan (ok, not really), super rested, and married!  Before I jump back in to our regularly scheduled posts, now complete with stand mixer (ooey gooey butter cake, prepare to fall before me), I wanted to share one of the smarter choices, besides the groom of course, I thought I made for the wedding.  It’s cupcakes.

yum

I know that cupcakes are a wedding supertrend, but I’m here to tell you, it’s not just because it’s cute or Martha Stewart features them on her cover.  I am nothing if not practical, and there are several logical reasons for choosing cupcakes over a traditional wedding cake.  Your experience may vary, but, in general:

1. It’s cheaper.  Wedding cake tends to start at $1.50 a slice for the very basic options, and go up from there.  And it can go up fast.  The average expenditure on wedding cake is $543.  The most expensive quote I got was $150 less than that, and we ended up spending under $200, total. 

2. They’re fresher.  It makes sense.  A big elaborate cake takes time to bake, put together, and decorate.  That means the base, the cake, had to be made a couple of days earlier.  Cupcakes are little, and cool quickly, so they’re just fresher!

3. More flavors = more happy.  We had 5 flavors of cupcakes — vanilla with vanilla buttercream, chocolate with chocolate ganache, chocolate with vanilla buttercream, chocolate with peanut butter, and red velvet. Additional cost for variety?  $0.  Ease of selecting your chosen flavor?  High.  Additional happiness from this?  Priceless.

everyone gets their own favorite!

4. You don’t have to think about what your cake is going to look like.  You may think this sounds silly, and if dreams of weddings bring to mind spectacular visions of fondant, this may not hold true for you.  But if your imagined response to a baker saying, “what should it look like?” is, “I don’t know; I just want it to taste good,” then cupcakes are a great choice for you.

5. No cutting, no waiting, just eating.  You’re at a wedding.  It’s time to cut the cake, yay!  The cutting happens.  Then, the cake gets wheeled away, and the music starts up again, and 20 minutes later, cake appears at your seat, or on a table in the corner, and if you aren’t looking for it, you may very well miss it.  Let’s get real, actually eating the cake is frequently an afterthought to looking at the cake.  This seems weird to me  — it’s food, not an ice sculpture!  With cupcakes, you take a bite of cake, then tell everyone else to come on down.  The cupcakes were half gone within 5 minutes.

jenn choosing her cupcake

6. They can be easily weaponized.  Let’s say someone shouts out, “Smash it in her face!” (Yes, this happened.)  You can throw a cupcake at said person.  (This did not, but it could have.  Watch out, Melissa.)

We got our cupcakes from the cupcake truck.  Bryan took care of ordering them, and said it was delightfully easy.  They just showed up, complete with stand, and they were a huge hit.  I had two red velvets, so I thought they were the most popular, but I’ve gotten props on the vanilla/vanillas and the chocolate/peanut butters, too.  Sadly, no one saw them being delivered, so I missed my chance to get a picture taken with the truck.  Ah well.  Maybe for our 10th anniversary or something.

dsc_1293

March 8, 2010

Caramels … by the pound!

curved knife

I confess… I have a thing for caramels.  And I also have a thing for packages.  Like, I’m obsessed with knowing when things I order will arrive, and I track them endlessly.  So, when an unexpected package arrived, I was delighted.  When it was filled with caramels and marshmallows, I swooned.  Jenn, you rock.

Deidre Wood is not is Philadelphia, but she is in the Etsy-verse, and you all have Internet access, so… close enough, right?  She will ship you ONE POUND of caramels for the low, low price of $11.50.  They come in “cut your own” sticks, and it is a shocking amount of caramel (at least 40 pieces worth.)  They are incredibly soft and gooey, though, so you might need to refrigerate before cutting if you live in a very warm home.

How delicious are they?  I wanted to share some with Jenn, even though it had come up to room temperature.  We were in Barnes and Noble, with no napkins and no knives, so we bit right off the stick.  The oozy pulls were stringing off with every bite.  Face caramel be damned… the whole thing was gone before I got home.

Deidre Wood
http://deidrewood.etsy.com

February 4, 2010

Philly Cupcake

3

After a particularly ill-fated trip to Betty’s Speakeasy last October, where the only cupcakes on offer included stout, chipotle and zucchini, I wrote my own personal rules for

How to Be a Good Cupcake Purveyor

  1. Have chocolate-chocolate and vanilla-vanilla, every day.
  2. Cupcakes are all about the cake-to-frosting ratio.  Don’t screw it up.
  3. Don’t refrigerate.  It makes your cakes dry.
  4. If you are going to have crazy flavors, they better be good.
  5. If your cupcakes are worse than the ones I bake at home, get out of the cupcake biz.

Philly Cupcake must be creepin’ around my windows, because they nailed all 5.  They even have a sign on their wall that reads, “We don’t refrigerate our cupcakes, and neither should you.”  And they got the secret rule of how to be a good anything in my book…  Be convenient.  While I love the cupcake truck and Whipped Bakeshop, their locations and hours make them less than ideal.

1

My favorite and general crowd-pleaser on their standard menu (sorry, facebook link) is the red velvet.  (The one shown above is a new offering — chocolate red velvet!  Also very good.)   When making your pick, be wary of one thing.  Standard cupcakes are $3.  Those marked special don’t just mean “daily special”.  They also mean “costs $4”, which is a little pricey for my taste.  Maybe if they had a nice thick chocolate ganache… but I haven’t really felt like the $4 were worth the extra buck so far.

Philly Cupcake
1132 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 625-4888‎
Philly Cupcake is cash-only.

December 22, 2009

Harry & David pears

pears

Certain foods always taste like a holiday.  (Like this cake = my birthday)  Harry and David pears will always taste like Christmas to me.

My grandparents would send us a case of them every Christmas.  If they hadn’t arrived by the second week of December, I would start staking out the mail, and checking the crisper drawers to make sure thay I hadn’t missed their arrival.  They are the “Royal Riviera” pears, and I’ve never seen them anywhere else.  They are, without a doubt, the most spectacular pears I’ve ever had.  And they should be, because Harry and David seems to stake their entire brand on them.

For years, Harry and David was mail-order only.  Today, all you procrastinators are in luck — they have local shops at King of Prussia, the Shops at Sagemore and the Willow Grove Mall.  If you need a last-minute gift for fruit-loving friends and family, a case of Royal Riviera pears could start a new holiday tradition.

December 17, 2009

marcie blaine chocolates @ Verde

marcie blaine chocolates

Since my first visit shortly after Verde opened, marcie blaine chocolates has been experimenting the pants off chocolate!  The flavors very widely almost every time I buy them, and the downright strangest chocolate I’ve had in recent memory came from their kitchen.  They have also hit upon some of my new most favorite flavors.  For you, dear readers, I made the sacrifice of tasting all their recent flavors, so you may buy gift boxes with confidence.

Must-buys:

  • the gingerbread was spectacular, warm and buttery, with a kick of spice at the end.  Just like the real deal.
  • the classic is a 70% cacao ganache, and just super tasty.
  • the hazelnut praline is a little denser than most pralines, which just makes it feel richer.  It also had a very defined nut flavor, not the Nutella taste you get in a lot of hazelnut chocolates.
  • the rose tattoo claims to be a rosewater caramel, but tastes more like butterscotch to me.  Delicious and pretty-looking to boot!

I liked:

  • The mint is kind of dry, but a it’s a light, fluffy taste that doesn’t make you feel like your tastebuds have been obliterated by toothpaste.
  • dry chocolate pecan w/ pecan brittle had a warm, salty flavor, with a roasted aroma and taste.  A good one for people who don’t like sweets.
  • the spicy peanut was another praline, with heavy peanut butter flavor.  I didn’t tasty any spice, but I still liked it.
  • the green tea was a very mildly flavored ganache.
  • the rosemary pinenut fleur de sel caramel, while not very caramelly, was still interesting, as you could really taste all the flavors.  The salt brought out the rosemary.

Not for me:

  • the Bindi madras has a white chocolate ganache, which isn’t my thing.  You can really taste the curry; the coconut, not so much.
  • the cacao nibs tasted like just plain chocolate to me.  Get the classic instead.
  • blood orange and olive oil is novel, but I still don’t like citrus in my chocolate.
  • the lavender vanilla was very lavendery, which makes me feel like I’m eating a sachet.
  • the bacon caramel may appeal to sweets haters. It made me feel like my brain was shutting down from weird overload, and shoved me back from the edge of bacon madness.

Their flavors change regularly, so all of these may not be available when you visit.   I really hope they have gingerbread, though.  It’s SO good!  They also sell chunks of chocolate bark, for which I am very grateful.  It can be painful to go to buy someone a box of nice chocolates, because then you would like a box of nice chocolates.  Their bark gives you a nice way to get your chocolate fix without feeling guilty about spending a fortune on a second box of chocolates!

marcie blaine chocolates @ Verde
108 S 13th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107-4532
(215) 546-8700

December 15, 2009

Cheese tasting at Quince

knives and baguette

Oh, cheese, how I love you so!  I was so excited to discover Madame Fromage, a Philadelphian blogging all about cheese, and I was thrilled when she said she would be organizing monthly cheese tastings at Quince Fine Foods in Northern Liberties.

I find cheese tastings delightful.  An expert takes the time to select a menu of cheeses that will work together, pairs them with spreads and accoutrements to enhance your experience, and hopefully, introduces you to something you may never have discovered on your own.  In short, a cheese tasting is all the things you’re looking for in a dining experience, at a fraction of the cost.  Plus, if you find something you like, it’s so much easier to recreate at home!

The November tasting featured Caña de Cabra, Brillat-Savarin and Valdéon.

cana de cabra

The Caña de Cabra is a semi-soft goat’s cheese, with a chevre-esque crumbliness in the center, and a gooey, soft ring around the rind.  At the tasting, it was served warm, topped with honey and toasted pine nuts.  It’s a mild, fresh-tasting cheese, and a nice introduction for someone who may have been shying away from soft cheeses.

brillat-savarin

The Brillat-Savarin is a triple-crème brie (which basically means the closest cheese to butter allowed by law.  Mmm!)  The ladies of Quince paired it with Marcona almonds (so different from regular almonds!  Pick some up at Trader Joe’s the next time you’re there.) and dried apricots.  The salty nuts were a great complement to the sweet, buttery brie.

valdeon

The tasting ended with Valdéon, a very mild Spanish blue (at least, in my opinion — Internet opinions vary) served with a fig cake and sherry.  This seemed like a great “gateway” cheese for a cheese fan who might be scared of blues.  I hadn’t had this cheese before, and I’ll definitely be picking some up in the future.

All the cheeses were very accessible, so don’t worry if you aren’t a cheese expert already.   Tenaya (Madame Fromage herself!) gave great rundowns of all the cheeses during the tasting, and both she and the women from Quince wandered around, answering questions.  They are clearly cheese lovers on a mission to spread the good word of fine cheeses.

Madame Fromage’s next tasting is $12, and it’s scheduled for this Saturday, December 19th, at 4pm.  To join her, RSVP via email to quince@quincefinefoods.com.

Quince Fine Foods
209 W. Girard Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19123
215.232.3425

November 23, 2009

Antoine Amrani Chocolates

Welcome back, Jenn! In preparation for my trip, Jenn will be guest blogging regularly for the next few weeks. If you guys are nice to her, maybe she’ll make it a regular gig!

Recently, Helen sent me an article about a chocolate factory store in East Norriton, which is my neck of the suburbs.  It wasn’t just any old chocolate store, however, but one started by an executive pastry chef for Le Bec Fin!  (No, not Miel.)  I drooled over the idea of dainty exquisitely flavored chocolates being minutes from my house.

Excited, my husband and I headed over to Antoine Amrani Chocolates on the same day.  We sampled their dark chocolate which they use for a base (70% cacao), a mild but delicious chocolate.  We had several of their bonbons and chocolates, which were gorgeous and tasty.  However, both my husband and I agreed that their spiced caramels stole the show.  The cinnamon and cardamom notes were perfect, not too strong, but not too weak.  I meant to give some to Helen, but I secretly kept popping them when Paul wasn’t looking.  I loved them so much that I ended up buying Helen a bag for her to sample since they were not available at the tasting she went to.  If you’re a real caramel lover, get a bag of their salted nut caramels while you’re at it!

caramels, actually.

After some prodding from Helen, she convinced me to go back to the factory store and take more photos for PhillyFoodie.  Since I wanted an excuse to buy their 6 piece petit box, I willingly went with camera in one hand and toddler in the other.

Factory Store

The factory store is tucked into a little industrial park in East Norriton which also has an All-Clad outlet and Talluto’s Italian Market.  It’s a great visit for any suburban foodies.  Surprisingly for an industrial park store, it’s gorgeous on both the inside and out.

When Amrani’s partner, Fred Potok, spotted me taking photos, he graciously offered me a tour of the factory’s kitchens.  Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I grabbed my 50mm lens, my son and a hairnet, and followed him down the hallway.  It was shockingly clean and white in the kitchens with a few people running around, mixing and pouring chocolate.

Pouring Chocolate

After a minute or two, I heard Potok say, “This is Antoine Amrani.”  A man rushed past me to grab a slicer.  By the time we passed his kitchen, the chocolates had been sliced.

Antoine Amrani!

Potok was super friendly, explaining what was being made, why the biggest kitchen was empty (a visit from the New York Times on the same day), and answering any questions I had.  He recommended his favorite chocolates — the coconut, the coffee sour cherry, and the pistachio.  I noticed that most of those were in the box I was given, as did he, so he offered me a sample of their Duo Cafe, which knocked my coffee-loving socks off, and the Almond Crisp.

I’d like to point out that these samples were not due to the camera.  Previous visits to the store with other clerks had always led to sample offers.  On our first visit there, Paul and I tried the Earl Grey (my favorite) and Cinnamon Honey (which both Helen and Paul raved about) as well as a few caramels.  If you get a chance to visit the store, you will not leave without something since the store keeps offering you samples until you find a flavor you can’t NOT take home with you.

If you’re not a fan of flavored chocolates or caramels (why are we still talking to each other, if so?), you can always try their truffles.  I tried one and I would definitely consider bringing a box home to be shared with friends and family that stopped by.

Truffles And Almonds

Now is the perfect time to stop by the store and pick up a sample and a box of chocolates or bag of spiced caramels as a hostess gift this Thanksgiving.  It’s located at:

550 Foundry Rd.
East Norriton, PA 19403

If you can’t make it to their store, order at their website or pick some up at DiBruno Bros. on Chestnut St.  I’d recommend the 17 piece box as it has at least one of each of their chocolates.  I won’t go into detail about each piece they have, but my strong hint is to grab the raspberry chocolates by any means.

November 5, 2009

Week 25: What is a CSA, anyway??

The 2009 Greensgrow CSA wraps up this week.  After my encounter with a reader, though, I realized I have never really explained what a CSA is!

csa entrance

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  They’re sometimes also referred to as a farmshare.  In a traditional CSA, a farm sells “shares” of their crops at the beginning of the season, which CSA members then receive as they are harvested, usually a box a week throughout the growing season.

As eating locally produced foods became more popular, some CSAs began adopting more flexible arrangements.  Some CSAs let you select your own box of goodies each week.  Some incorporate non-plant items (eggs are a particularly popular choice.)

eggs

Greensgrow takes that flexibility to the extreme.  Even though they are a farm (in the middle of the city, even), most weeks’ boxes don’t include any Greensgrow-produced items.  Instead, Greensgrow acts as a broker between the local-food-loving public, and an array of local producers including farms who may be too small to run their own CSA, meat producers, dairies, and even local prepared food vendors like Superior Pasta Company and Bobbi’s Hummus.

As a member, participating in a CSA means you’re getting fresh, seasonal, super tasty produce all summer long.  Plus, you’re doing your part to support a local food economy and farming families, and it’s good for the environment, too.  Joining a CSA is a great way to put your money where your mouth is on a range of issues.  For farms, it’s a chance to get some money in the door earlier in the season, and also build a group of supporters.  I don’t think I’ve ever met someone in a CSA who wouldn’t enthusiastically promote it to you.

picking up your basket

If you’re thinking about joining a CSA next year, there are a lot of options in the area. When choosing, I would think about:

  • CSA style: there are all-veg, fruits and veggies, produce and eggs, a full mix including meat, and more.  Some CSAs also let you add on things like extra fruit, or actually select a given amount of your weekly box.
  • Food Quantity: Many CSAs have a full and half share.  You can also buddy up to split your share.
  • Pick-up locations: do you need to take a weekly trip to the farm (Greensgrow requires this), or is there a pick-up location near you?
  • Signup date: Popular CSAs sell out, almost every year.

The first year I wanted to do Greensgrow, I didn’t think about it until May, when I saw the first produce of the season hitting the farm stands.  I was too late, and the CSA was sold out.  I spent that whole summer in CSA envy, watching people picking up their boxes at the Fair Food CSA drop-off.  I made an entry on my calendar for February of the following year, so I could be sure I wouldn’t miss it.  And with good reason…. the 2009 CSA sold out in under a month.

Want to stump for your favorite CSA?  Tell us all about it in the comments!

On to this week’s basket, AKA the end of season hodge-podge AKA beer week!

  • Greensgrow Bucks - Philadelphia, PA
  • Brussels Sprouts - Lancaster, PA
  • Radicchio - Flaim Farms, Vineland, NJ
  • Bell Peppers - Lancaster, PA
  • Beer - Philadelphia Brewing Company, Philadelphia, PA
  • Cheese and Meat - Choose 1 from mix
  • 1 dozen free-range eggs

Thanks for a great season, Greensgrow!