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Discovering Gelato

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Written by foodie pam   
Tuesday, 02 November 2010

Double Dark Chocolate
In this age of seasonal, local and homemade, I'm not ashamed to admit I buy ice cream. It's not that I don't have an ice cream maker. In fact I've made some rather tasty frozen delights on my own, but I also lack will power (especially when it comes to ice cream) and prefer not to have even the makings for ice cream on hand.  Instead, if I absolutely must have ice cream (a rather frequent occurrence I admit) I force myself to get out of the house and go buy some.  Call it forced restraint—although I admit it doesn't really work that well and I still end up having frozen treats more often than I probably should.

That's why it should be no surprise that I'm sharing with you a new favorite frozen delight in November—a time when hot from the oven pies and other warm desserts may be more common.  I have a bit of an addiction to ice cream—one that started long before I was a soda jerk in high school and one that continues to evolve.   I recently shared a locally produced boozy ice cream that got me on the hunt for additional intriguing frozen delights and this month I want to share another amazing find - Talenti Gelato and Sorbetto

ImageTalenti is a Dallas, TX company that handcrafts gelato and sorbetto using what they say is a 500-year old artisanal process.  They also carefully select the ingredients opting for fresh pasteurized milk (without growth hormones), pure cane sugar (no high fructose corn syrup), and fresh quick frozen ingredients (no syrups, flavorings or fruit preserves).  The result is smooth, creamy, delicious and flavor packed.  Despite this, because gelato is made with milk rather than cream, it is lower in fat than ice cream (Talenti says their products have 30-100% less fat than ice cream). 

Talenti has nearly 20 different flavors!  I've tried a bunch of both the gelatos and sorbettos and enjoyed them all.  They each have very distinctive and somewhat addictive flavors.  Picking a single favorite wouldn't be fair since I really liked several of them including the Caramel Cookie Crunch, Double Dark Chocolate, and the Toasted Almond gelatos.  For the sorbettos, the Blood Orange and Italian Ice really stood out for their intense natural flavor.  Which one will I grab on my next gelato run?  It's a hard choice and with so many good choices I may simply have to close my eyes and grab!

Disclosure: Items discussed in this post may have been provided by vendors, publicists, and/or manufacturers to Project Foodie. 

Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.


Last Updated ( Wednesday, 03 November 2010 )

Picking a Favorite Vanilla

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Written by foodie pam   
Friday, 08 October 2010

ImageEach year as the cool Fall weather kicks in I start baking more.  Usually, my first big Fall baking activity goes hand-in-hand with a big shopping trip. Staples like flour and white sugar need to be re-filled. Baking powder and some baking spices need a refresh even if they are not gone as they lose their oomph over time.  I also stock up on chocolate (cocoa powder, dark chocolate and bittersweet chocolate) which I don't keep in large quantities because it can absorb other flavors.  And then there is vanilla extract, which is suspended in an alcohol solution and I believe best kept in relatively small quantities. 

In general, I'm not specific about the brands or types of my baking staples, although I prefer to use a high quality chocolate like Scharffen-Berger and am very careful about the amount of cacao for each particular use.  Similarly, in years past I've been  careful to use a high quality vanilla extract like Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, but I must admit I didn't pay much attention to what type of vanilla I used.

Recently I was reading through some baking cookbooks and noticed that most authors state a favorite vanilla extract.  Usually they state not only a brand but also a specific vanilla origin.  That got me thinking - why don't I have a favorite vanilla?  Honestly, it's just because I've never compared the various vanillas. So, I decided to do a vanilla taste test, and of course, share the results with all of you…

Since I wanted to compare different vanilla origins rather than different producers, I limited my testing to four different types of vanilla (Mexican, Tahitian, Organic Madagascar Bourbon and Madagascar Bourbon) all from Nielsen-Massey Vanillas which is my favorite brand of vanilla.

The first question I had was how to taste vanilla?  I mean, it's not really something you want to drink right out of the bottle is it?  I queried fellow foodie and cookbook author Peggy Fallon who immediately replied that drizzling vanilla on sugar cubes was a good first step.  She also was quick to point out her current favorite vanilla, but I was not going to let her bias me in my quest…

To make the test blind, I covered the labels on the four vanillas and with the help of foodie Husband we got down to tasting the vanillas.  We both unanimously agreed on the results which essentially divided the vanillas into two groups.  The first group, consisting of the Mexican and Tahitian vanillas, had a more pronounced and somewhat spicier vanilla flavor with the Mexican being a bit more mellow than the Tahitian.  The two Madagascar Bourbon vanillas had a less strong vanilla flavor that almost seemed like a secondary note compared to the Mexican and Tahitian vanillas.  Of them we preferred the organic Madagascar Bourbon which was more mellow that the non-organic. (As a side I should note that Madagascar Bourbon is not related to American whiskey, rather it refers to the Bourbon island chain that Madagascar is in. Nevertheless vanilla extracts are suspended in alcohol and we felt both Madagascar Bourbon vanillas had a bit of an alcohol flavor). 

ImageGreat, we both ranked the Mexican vanilla higher which also just so happened to be Peggy's favorite as well.  We were done right? Nope. My foodie consultant cautioned me that the vanilla might taste different when incorporated into a baked good.  A true test must incorporate the vanilla into something - preferably a baked good that is vanilla centric.  Rather than make four batches of cookies I limited the second stage of testing to the top two vanillas above.  I made Vanilla sugar cookies (as much fun as slurping large batches of whipped cream sounded it seemed a bit over the top and still didn't involve baking!). 

The results with the cookies were essentially the same as above. Our favorite was the Mexican Vanilla which resulted in a stronger vanilla flavor in the cookies.   As a side, I should note that the product information for the Tahitian vanilla states it "is best used in products that are not subjected to high heat, such as in refrigerated and frozen desserts, pastry creams, fruit pies and sauces, smoothies and shakes, and puddings and custards".  Guess I should have done a whipped cream comparison too!  Perhaps the Tahitian would have won that one…

Still, I'm glad I did the comparison. I was surprised by the clear differences between the Mexican and Tahitian compared to the Madagascar Bourbon vanillas.  How about you? Do you have a favorite vanilla?  If you want to be your own judge and have a spare afternoon, some sugar cubes and an outlet for batches of cookies give the taste test a try.  But, if you'd rather not spend the time on such a project you may want to just trust Peggy Fallon, myself and foodie Husband and go with the Mexican vanilla. I know that's what I'll be using for all my fall and holiday baking this year…

Disclosure: Items discussed in the What's Tasty posts may have been provided by vendors, publicists, and/or manufacturers to Project Foodie.

Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.


Last Updated ( Friday, 08 October 2010 )

Tasty Spirit Infused Ice Cream

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Written by foodie pam   
Monday, 27 September 2010
ImageIce cream and I go way back.  From custards with my dad when I could barely walk, to my time as a soda-jerk in high school, to my Ben & Jerry college filled years to my present day date-night treats with the hubby.

Ask me a month ago what kind of ice cream would be a new revelation for me and I would have laughed at you.  

That is until I discovered spirit infused ice creams from a company right in my own home town.  SilverMoon makes artisan liqueur infused ice cream and sorbets.  

ImageI recently got to try out some of their latest flavors. My favorite was the Praline Irish Cream which has Irish Cream liqueur and candied pecan pralines - pure indulgence!

On the sorbet side I enjoyed Mango Mimosa which mixes mango with champagne, and Pomegranate Martini which has combines the unexpected pomegranate with vodka.

Booze and Ice Cream - wow! As much of a revelation this was, I have to admit I also really enjoyed eating a product from a smaller producer compared to the mass-produced big-names.  So much so that I've already started seeking out more great new small production frozen delectable delights.  

SilverMoon is available throughout the San Fransciso Bay area but you can order it on-line

Disclosure: Items discussed in the What's Tasty posts may have been provided by vendors, publicists, and/or manufacturers to Project Foodie.
Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.


Last Updated ( Monday, 20 September 2010 )

The quest for the ultimate homemade English muffin

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Written by foodie pam   
Monday, 27 September 2010
List of viewable recipes from "Artisan Breads at Home" by Eric Kastel

ImageFor almost two years now I've been making my own bread for lost of uses including sandwich bread, rolls, loaves, pizza dough and more.   Somehow, even though I love them, English muffins were, until recently, one of the few bread items that I still bought at the store.

Once I decided to make my own English muffins, it didn't take me long to find some recipes since all of my favorite bread making cookbooks have English muffin recipes. I also quickly found some nice recipes for whole wheat English muffins.  It has been a long journey through muffinland and it's still hard to choose a favorite, but I have I learned a few things along the way.

Ultimately, the first recipe I tried was my favorite, but from the start it had a problem. The English muffins came out rectangular.  Call me old fashioned, but that was just a bit too artisan for me; I wanted round English muffins.  

I soon learned that round English muffins require crumpet rings because they're more of a batter consistency than a dough consistency like my square muffins. And that crumpet rings are hard to find.  While some books claimed that tuna cans and/or canning rings could be used this was problematic.  The canned tuna I buy has a round bottom so cutting the bottom off isn't possible and canning rings are not tall enough (in my opinion). 

I searched and searched for crumpet rings.  The first place I checked was the most recent King Arthur Flour catalog that arrived in my mailbox, but they weren't in it.  I tried cooking stores, specialty stores and more.  Oh, of course these stores all had 4 inch rings, but typically at an outrageous price - and I need at least 8. Then one day about 4 months later another King Arthur Flour catalog arrived and lo and behold it had crumpet/English muffin rings.  Bingo - I got them and made the other recipes.  The result? Nice round English muffins that lacked the flavor of English muffins. 

Sigh.  After all that effort I still didn't have round English muffins - or at least ones I liked!  

Desperation is a good motivator though so I went back to the original great tasting recipe that had nice nooks and crannies.  I rolled the dough out like the recipe said but instead of cutting the dough into squares I (gasp) used my damn crumpet rings like cookie cutters and made round pieces of dough!  

Now you may be wondering - why is she sharing this with us?  Well, that's easy. I love these English muffins so much that I want you to be able to make them.  The ultimate English muffin recipe (see below) is from "Artisan Bread at Home" by Eric Kastel and the Culinary Institute of America (more recipes from Artisan Bread at Home). The recipe calls for square muffins, but in this case you really can make a square peg fit into a round whole and you don't even have to spend four months searching for crumpet rings.

Of course being a foodie is about more than just baking - we also eat our creations.  The English muffin recipe makes a dozen English muffins; unless you've got a lot of people in your house this is more than you'll want on any given day.  My solution is to freeze them after I cook them.   This lets me enjoy the whole batch, just not all at once.

One caveat with this solution is toasting them.  I eat English muffins for breakfast on a whim.  That means I need to transform a frozen lump into a tasty treasure fairly quickly.  To do this I split the muffins before I freeze them (I use a fork so the nooks and crannies survive) and put them back together offset so a simple slip of a knife between them opens them up. 

ImageTo toast the frozen lumps, I use the defrost setting on the Magimix Toaster sold by Williams-Sonoma.   Since the Magimix toaster has glass windows on either side I can watch the muffins toast.  Not only is this really cool, but it lets me make sure all my efforts in making my own muffins don't get wasted by over toasting the muffins.  As an aside, if you haven't heard of Magimix yet that's a shame.  A few years ago my husband discovered the brand when we were searching for a food processor.   We bought the Magmix food processor and haven't looked back ever since.  The Magimix toaster and food processor only available at Williams-Sonoma in the United States.

OK, back to the English muffin eating. Once they are nicely toasted, my favorite toppings are butter (recipe in DIY Delicious by Vanessa Barrington) and/or fig jam and peach jam (recipe from Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff) all from my own kitchen. 

While it may sound silly, nothing puts a smile on my face more than starting the day off with something that is entirely my own homemade creation… 

Disclosure: The Magimix toaster was provided for testing purposes at Project Foodie by Williams-Sonoma.

English Muffins

From Artisan Breads at Home by Eric Kastel, Wiley 2010.

This recipe brings a classic favorite to the breakfast table. To get the characteristically browned outer crust of the muffins, before baking, the dough is first heated in a skillet for a short time at a low temperature. Slather these muffins with butter and jam, or pile them high with eggs and bacon for a satisfying early-day meal.

Yield: 12 muffins at 3½ oz | FDT: 82°F

Bakers %
Water, 55°F
6.8 1913/4 cup
Bread flour
1 1/3 cups + 1 Tbsp
Yeast, instant dry0.010.31/4 tsp
Final Dough
Water, 95°F 12.5
1 1/2 cups
Malt syrup
1/8 tsp
2 Tbsp
Bread flour
4 1/4 cups
Yeast, instant dry.
1 Tbsp
1 Tbsp 2.3%
2 tsp
Semolina-flour mixture; ratio 1:1 
 as needed

1. PREPARE the poolish the day before you want to serve the muffins. Mix together the water, flour and yeast by hand until homogenous. The poolish will have little lumps and will be wet (unlike a dough). Cover the poolish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. Remove from the refrigerator and leave at room temperature for 10 to 12 hours. At this point, the poolish will have fermented and risen with visible bubbles (it should not have collapsed in the center).

2. TO MAKE THE DOUGH, put the poolish in the bowl of a mixer with the water and malt. In a separate bowl, rub the butter into the flour to make a sandy mixture. Add the yeast to the flour and butter, then add to the bowl. Add the salt and sugar and place the bowl on a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix for 4 minutes on low speed, making sure to scrape down and flip the dough over twice during the mixing process. Then mix for another 2 minutes on medium speed, making sure to scrape down and flip the dough. The dough should be wet and tacky with partial gluten development. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl large enough for it to double in size and cover with plastic wrap.

3. PLACE the bowl in a warm place to rest and ferment for 45-60 minutes, until when lightly touched the dough springs back halfway.

4. PLACE the dough on a lightly floured work surface and fold it into thirds. Re-cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for another 15 minutes, until when lightly touched the dough springs back halfway.

5. PREHEAT the oven to 475°F.

6. UNCOVER the dough and lightly flour it on all sides with a mixture of semolina flour and bread flour. Then gently roll the dough out into a rectangle (10 by 11 inches) about ½ inch thick. With a pastry wheel or pizza wheel, cut the dough into 3-inch squares (cut in 1 direction to create 3-inch strips, then cut across each strip to create squares). Place the squares on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes, until when lightly touched the dough springs back halfway.

7. WARM a nonstick skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Place a few dough pieces in the skillet, making sure not to overcrowd the pan, and cook until they are brown on each side (if the skillet becomes too hot, quickly lower the heat). Place the cooked dough pieces on a clean tray lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining dough.

8. TRANSFER the muffins to the oven. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until they reach an internal temperature of 205°F.

9. REMOVE the tray from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.


Last Updated ( Monday, 27 September 2010 )

Vintners' Holidays: Combine wine, food and views for a great holiday

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Written by foodie pam   
Wednesday, 22 September 2010


Where can you get enjoy great wine and food while in the middle of one of the most gorgeous spots on earth?  Vintners' Holidays in Yosemite National park.

Last year, I had the pleasure of experiencing Vintners' Holidays first hand.

An opening reception offers a chance to meet other attendees and presenting vintners while sipping their wines and munching on great nibbles.

The late starting program allows for lazy mornings in Yosemite national park so that I could take a hike or simply sit and enjoy the views of Yosemite Valley from the hotel. 

Afternoon wine sessions let me explore wine by some great vintners while learning from them in interactive wine tasting sessions (some paired with food).

And, a grand finale gala with amazing food from Yosemite's Ahwahnee hotels wonderful Chef Percy Whatley.


It was truly a holiday to remember. 

This year's Vintners' Holidays kicks off October 31st with eight different sessions to choose from.    Sessions are 2 or 3 nights with the cost varying depending if you stay at the Yosemite Lodge (starting at  $766) or the more luxurious Ahwahnee (starting at $1,106).  Find out all the details - here.

Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.


Last Updated ( Monday, 20 September 2010 )
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