Mid-Week Tangent: return of gelato (!!!)

Friends, it’s been a long, long time since I sampled gelato at my beloved QB Gelato in Kelowna.  Like, months. Longer than I’ve gone since we discovered it.  In other words, this gelato quest was overdue in a big way. And since they were featuring new Fall-inspired flavours–thankfully, not including pumpkin spice…sorry pumpkin spice lovers, but it’s just not my jam–we had to fit in a trip.  As always, I strive to keep you all informed of the best local (well, local to me at least) gelato to satisfy your cravings, so here we go!

Where: QB Gelato, Kelowna

What I Ordered: Apple Pie & Salty Caramel

The Verdict:  I’ll get to the full review on the flavours I ordered after this brief tangent. One thing I love about QB Gelato is their encouragement to sample every flavour under the sun.  On this go-around we tried a number of new-to-us flavours including:

–Della Nonna (“An Italian classic – milk, egg yolks and a delicate lemon peel flavouring create Della Nonna custard gelato”). Verdict: SO simple yet creamy and delicious
–Matcha: I am usually not a matcha fan because it makes me feel like I have major dry mouth, but this matcha was perfectly balanced and surprisingly tasty.

Enough of the opening acts, let’s move on to the real show: Apple Pie & Salty Caramel. To be fair, I’ve had the salty caramel before and it’s delicious. The real star of the show was the Apple Pie.

Oh. My. Goodness. You need this Apple Pie Gelato in your life. So many apple pie ice creams I’ve had have mushy pie crust and bland apple chunks. Not so with this gelato. The pie crust chunks are plentiful, substantial, firm, and deliciously buttery. The apple is actually apple compote, supremely spiced and flavourful. It is the perfect bite of Fall.  And, despite what some crazy people might say, it is never too cold for gelato, so you need this in your life.

Bon appetit!

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Mid-Week Tangent: ice cream…again

You might remember that I am a massive Dairy Queen fan, specifically as it relates to the wonder that is the Pecan Mudslide. However, I took a bit of a hiatus from Dairy Queen after a particularly disappointing pecan mudslide experience a couple months back. I will spare you the long, protracted story. Suffice it to say that their sauce temperature appeared to be way out of whack and left my soft serve a melted puddle within seconds. Super uncool.

I decided to give DQ another chance, though, when I saw the add for the new Reeses Outrageous Blizzard, which combines Reeses Pieces (which, honestly, aren’t really my thing), Reeses Peanut Butter Cups (which are very much my thing), and caramel (very, very much one of my favourite things).  And I must say that I am glad I gave my beloved DQ a second chance, because as far as Blizzards go, this one is pretty good.

What You’ll Get
I will always give Dairy Queen points for its abundance of mix-ins. A while back I ordered a McFlurry and it was basically a giant cup of soft serve with about a tablespoon of toppings mixed in, and by “mixed in” I actually mean incorporated only with the top inch of soft serve. Unacceptable. My Blizzard, on the other hand, was full of Reeses Pieces and Peanut Butter Cups. Full. I mean, there were still more at the top than at the bottom, but I think that’s inevitable. It was still better distributed than most mix-in treats.

The Verdict
You either love Blizzards or you hate them. It’s soft serve, after all. But let’s be honest, mixing candy in with soft serve is delicious. You know it, and I know it.  While I appreciate a good, fancy ice cream, I am not one to turn my nose up at the obviously delicious. I am a snob in many rights, but not when it comes to ice cream (…except for Breyers blue label…don’t even get me started on that “ice cream” abomination…).

The caramel really makes this Blizzard. I am pro-caramel in any dessert. In fact, it’s truly the main reason I enjoy Pecan Mudslides. While the caramel is mostly blended into the soft serve, there was the occasional pocket of gooey, unblended caramel there to delight and surprise me. As you can tell, caramel makes my heart swoon, but even if you have only a normal amount of love for caramel, I think you will find it’s a major Blizzard upgrade.

The quick and dirty verdict: It’s good. You’ll like it. Just buy it*.

 

*For an extra enjoyable experience, I personally recommend freezing your Blizzard for a few hours before consuming. I find soft serve TOO soft and prefer a slightly firmer texture. Don’t worry, through the magic of chemicals, your Blizzard won’t freeze to a rock hard consistency. I know that’s horrifying to contemplate, so just try not to think about it.

Mid-Week Tangent: trying all the ice creams part II

If it seems like I did nothing on holiday but eat mass-produced, mediocre ice cream, you would not be altogether wrong. We went through four pints of ice cream in a week, none of which were particularly interesting, but all of which are not available in Canada, which gave them an air of mystery and scarcity that I could not ignore. And so, not in addition to last week’s battle of the brands, here is the second and final instalment.

Battle of the Brands: B&J’s oat of this swirled vs. Haagen Dazs Salted Caramel chocolate trio crispy layers

Let’s start with all the technical stuff, shall we?

Product Description for Haagen Dazs Salted Caramel Chocolate Trio Crispy Layers: Journey through layers of lightly salted caramel ice cream and irresistible chocolate ice cream stacked between crisp Belgian chocolate for an unmistakably sophisticated sweetness.

Product Description for Ben & Jerry’s Oat of this Swirled: buttery brown sugar ice cream with fudge flakes & oatmeal cinnamon cookie swirls

Who Won?
Once again, these are vastly different flavours but once again Ben & Jerry’s took the prize, and this time by a landslide.

Rationale:
Can we just start by acknowledging that the Haagen Dazs ice cream has the most ridiculously long and confusing (as far as ice cream names are concerned) name ever? No one needs 6 words to describe their ice cream. The major issue with this new “flavour”, though, was its utter lack of flavour. I didn’t actually realize that it was salted caramel until I went to write this post. There was no salt. And no discernible caramel flavour. I tasted barely chocolatey ice cream and nothing but. The crispy chocolate layer was nice, but I would’ve have been just as happy with chocolate chunks. I feel like Haagen Dazs is trying to be inventive when no one needs innovation in ice cream. What you need in ice cream is flavour. This one is a giant fail in my books.

To be honest, the Oat of this Swirled, although it won by a landslide, wasn’t even particularly great. It was good the first night, but by the second and third nights, when my appetite for ice cream was reaching unprecedentedly low levels, I couldn’t even finish my bowl. The cinnamon in the cookie swirl became cloying and I found myself mining through the ice cream for coveted chocolate chunks. Still, I blame this lacklustre response to a week of general overindulgence, certainly including an unnecessarily large ice cream intake, rather than blaming the ice cream itself. I know it was good ice cream, and definitely the better of the two.

The moral of the story here is don’t eat four pints of ice cream in a week, even if you are sharing. The secondary moral of the story is, if you do opt for excessive ice cream consumption, avoid the ridiculously long named crispy trio from Haagen Dazs. I promise you, you will miss nothing.

Mid-Week Tangent: Trying all the Ice Creams

Whenever I am in the States, I feel compelled to investigate the selection of Haagen Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Canada gets such a paltry collection in comparison so I do my best to consume as much new-to-me ice cream as possible while I am here. Today’s post features a double-header and a battle of the brands. Oh, you are in for a treat today (pun absolutely intended).

Battle of the Brands: B&J’s Gimme S’more vs. Haagen Dazs Peanut Butter Salted Fudge

Let’s start with all the technical stuff, shall we?

Product Description for Haagen Dazs Peanut Butter Salted Fudge: Decadent swirls of salted fudge and the crunch of chocolate covered peanuts blend with smooth peanut butter ice cream for a tantalizing combination of tastes and textures.

Product Description for Ben & Jerry’s Gimme S’more: toasted marshmallow ice cream with chocolate cookie swirls, graham cracker swirls & fudge flakes.

Who Won?
Look, I know I’m not comparing apples to apples here, since these are two starkly different flavours. so this battle of the brands is ultimately a reflection of my personal taste preferences. Still, I will declare a winner in this flavour throw down and that winner is Gimme S’More.

Rationale:
Honesty, if I could have combined elements of the two ice creams, I would have been happiest. The Gimme S’more with the peanut butter ice cream base would’ve been a dream. The toasted marshmallow ice cream base that Ben & Jerry’s promised me didn’t deliver. I got no marshmallow. In fact, until I re-read the description I was certain it was a graham cracker flavoured base. But the chocolate cookie swirls and graham swirls were my own versions of sugary heaven, and I think they would have been just as delicious in a peanut butter base.

The truth is the Haagen Dazs lost me suddenly and quickly with something that was right on the label, but which I overlooked because the second I see chocolate and peanut butter I am sold. The culprit? Chocolate covered peanuts. In my world, there is no occasion for chocolate covered peanuts. Ever. Period. End of story.  Also, the fudge swirl didn’t taste salted. I could have gotten over the lack of salt in supposedly salted fudge, but the blasphemy of chocolate covered peanuts was too big a sin for me to overlook. I mean, I’d still eat a pint if you gave it to me, but…Gimme S’more still wins this battle.

Stay tuned. If time and meal plans allow, I may be able to knock out yet another ice cream battle before vacation ends. The suspense must be killing you.

Mid-Week Tangent: my love for ice cream DOES have limits

When we told people we were going to Portland a couple weeks ago, almost everyone told us that we absolutely had to go to Salt and Straw. As a passionate lover of ice cream, I gladly accepted a recommendation. I’ve heard of Salt and Straw before and figured it couldn’t hurt to try it.

After 2.5 days of wandering, eating and drinking our way through PDX, it was time to give Salt & Straw a try. And so, on our last day in town, which wasn’t even a full day in that would had to leave for the airport mid-afternoon, I dragged my poor better all the way to Nob Hill (i.e. up a giant hill from our downtown hotel…in 30+ degree heat) for the sole purpose of checking out Salt & Straw.

We got there around 12:30 and headed straight inside where there appeared to be a small line (I couldn’t actually tell if the people hovering were in line and just not paying attention to the fact that the line had moved up, or just  milling about).  I figured we should strike while the ice cream iron was hot (i.e. while the line was short), but my partner reminded me that we hadn’t eaten lunch yet and should probably do that first. Personally, I don’t subscribe to only eating dessert after a proper meal, but I’d also eaten no actual, healthy food in three days so I conceded for once.

That was where I made my mistake. Had I gone for my usual footloose and fancy free “eat dessert whenever the hell you feel like it” approach, I would be writing about their ice cream, rather than rambling on about the limits to my love for ice cream. Instead, we ate a sensible lunch (salad, no less!) and returned almost two hours later to find that the line for ice cream had extended to outside the shop, snaking itself around the corner and doubling over itself into two rows.

I still stand by my initial thought which was ‘Good God, all this for ice cream?!?! It cannot be that good.’ I was eyeing up the ice cream of those sitting outside, those who hadn’t foolishly arrived at 2:30pm on a hot, sunny Sunday, which also happened to be Mother’s Day. It looked, dare I say, like any other ice cream. People were oohing and ahhhing over it, but wouldn’t you do the same if you’d just waited in line for the better part of an hour? I know I would, if only just to prove it hadn’t been a total waste of my time.

Alas, we got in line anyway, and I was doing the mental math on how long it would take to serve the scores of people ahead of us, most of whom I imagined greedily sampling every flavour under the sun before hemming and hawing over their final choice as if an ice cream choice ever has any real consequence (and I say this as an ice cream obsessive). My mental math, and the fact that we hadn’t advanced at all in five minutes, was telling me that this was easily an hour-long line up.

It was at this point that I was faced with a dilemma: do I suck it up and waste my last hours in Portland waiting in line for ice cream that, quite likely, is overhyped and merely good, or do I walk away never knowing if this was the one ice cream shop whose ice cream isn’t highly overrated?  You can tell the title of this post that my choice was to walk away. Because even though I love ice cream probably more than any other confection, and even though a good ice cream is such a magically wondrous delight, and even though I live to write posts about any ice cream experience good or bad, apparently there is a limit to my love for ice cream.

That limit is a one hour line.

Mid-Week Tangent: the gelato bar of my dreams

I have written about QB Gelato not once but twice. It is that good. Seriously, if you live in the Okanagan or are passing through the Okanagan at any point this summer, you must go.  We stop any time we are passing through town and I never regret shelling out inordinate amounts of money (full disclosure, a pint is $18) for a little bit of gelato joy.

On my last visit, I decided to branch out from my usual two flavour cup to test out their gelato bars. These are small-batch house made logs of heaven. Yikes, I’m sorry, using the term “logs” doesn’t make these sound appealing in the slightest…but to me they look more like a log than a bar.  Semantics aside, they are the best gelato bar/logs that you will ever eat in your entire life, bar none (come on, that was a good pun).

Anatomy of a Life-Changing Gelato Bar

Like most of my food photos, this picture just does not do justice to the bar itself. For one, it makes it seem like the smallest bar ever. I also fear it looks ultra boring. Let me spare you those concerns: this gelato bar is sizeable and spectacular. Now let me tell you why:

1. Life Changing Ultra Thick Chocolate Coating: In my opinion, most ice cream bars have woefully thin chocolate coatings. Even worse, many don’t use actual chocolate. Ever notice products that say “chocolatey coating”?That’s your sign that it’s not even real chocolate. Not so for this bar. This bar is drenched in Valrhona milk chocolate. Like drenched. It provides a satisfying snap to the bar, and provides the ultimate balance to the gelato center and salted peanut caramel. Trust me when I say the first and last bites (where you’ll get the maximum chocolate coating) will be your best.

2. Life changing vanilla gelato centre: Vanilla gelato would never be my first flavour choice. Ever. This is actually fior di latte gelato, which is even more neutral than something like a vanilla bean gelato. Lest you think this makes the centre boring, let me assure you it does not. With the richness of the chocolate and the boldness of the salted peanut caramel, this simple yet perfectly smooth and creamy gelato is exactly the centrepiece this bar needs to shine. This gelato bar doesn’t need a fancy flavoured centre. It’s rocking a plain centre and pulling it off flawlessly.

3. Life changing salted peanut caramel: I don’t even like peanuts. In fact, I consider them a waste of a nut. Normally I’d say give me a pecan or cashew or almond, or virtually any other nut.  However, somehow here the peanut is perfection. Their crunch holds up even when bathed in a sea of the most well-balanced salted caramel you can imagine. To be fair, I am always a fan of any salted caramel, even mediocre salted caramel, but I am extra appreciative of a caramel that retains its gooeyness in a frozen treat without becoming the kind of caramel that threatens to extract your teeth. And, while it looks as though there’s barely any caramel at the base of this bar, it is actually far thicker than the picture suggests. It is the perfect ratio of caramel and peanut to gelato. There is no other word for it: perfect. Did you catch that? Perfect.

If you aren’t already Google mapping just how far QB Gelato is from your house, you are already behind the eight ball. Get on it. It might be a $6-8 bar (honestly, I didn’t even look at the price), but it is worth each and every hard-earned dollar. My only regret was not buying a half dozen to squirrel away in my freezer for future indulgences.

Perfect.

 

 

Mid Week Tangent: NYC Walking Sugarfest

Last week, I was in New York for a conference and, as sugar addicts do, I devoted all my spare time to seeking out sugary treats I’ve read about on other’s blogs. My sweet spot (pun intended) was any place in Manhattan that featured cookies, cakes or cupcakes, and that did take out. I do not have the self-confidence to dessert in a cafe or bakery alone. No one needs to see me eat that much sugar at one time, and I don’t need the self-induced shame associated with it.

Moving on.

Given that I only had time on lunch breaks and after 4:30 pm, I believe I crammed a lot of treats into a 3.5 day stay. I still had a million places I would have visited if I’d had more time or the will to travel outside the boundaries of Manhattan proper, but really I think you’ll see that I consumed quite enough as it is.

I could simply present you with a list of the bakeries I visited and the treats I consumed, but since I completed this entire mission on foot alone (i.e. no cabs, Ubers, Subways or any other form of motorized transport), I felt compelled to work walking distance into an overly complex rating system that no one but me will understand. I’ve taken into account not just taste and appearance and quality and value for price, but also the distance I had to walk to acquire the treat. Sure, that should have no bearing whatsoever on how good the treat was, but let me tell you that walking 8 km for a cookie will make a big difference to how good it tastes. I’ve also included photos wherever possible, but I warn you that they are poor because a) I am not  a food photographer…nor any kind of photographer and b) I took them while squirrelled away in my hotel room hiding from the shame of my sugar consumption.  Here goes nothing.

1. Magnolia Bakery Chocolate Cake (4.8/5): First place goes to the closest bakery to my hotel, which conveniently also had the best chocolate cake base of any I tried. Moist, not too crumbly, and richly chocolately, this cake was a winner. The frosting, however, was way too soft. I’m team firm frosting all the way. It was also underwhelming. I took off a bunch of points for the frosting factor (frosting is life), but it got bonus points for total ease of access (800 m from my hotel). Scores could also be higher than usual because I ate this cake after watching a live taping of Late Night with Seth Meyers. I suspect anything tastes better after that.

[I am ashamed that I somehow didn’t take a picture of this cake. Who knew it would end up top of the list?]

2.  Magnolia Bakery Carrot Cake (4.6/5): I gotta tell you, Magnolia Bakery knows what they’re doing with cakes. I’m normally not one to even care about the cake itself. I view it as merely a vehicle for frosting. But this carrot cake base was delicious without being overly moist like some carrot cakes can be. The cream cheese frosting was the biggest let down. I’m sure 99% of the world would love it because it’s not very sweet, but I want my frosting sweet as can be. In fact, I was initially drawn to this cake because of its intensely thick layers of frosting that promised a supremely deep sugar coma.  It was good, but could’ve been so much better. Full disclosure: this may be ranked higher than it should be because I spent SEVEN HOURS at the Toronto airport waiting for my flight and any piece of cake would’ve tasted like heaven after that level of hell.

3. Levain Bakery Famed Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie (4.4/5): I don’t know about paying $4.25 US for a cookie. It was good, but I’m not sure any cookie is worth that kind of price tag. Still, I walked 42 minutes in each direction to get my hands on this bad boy and I didn’t regret it. Points were deducted because they serve the cookies with oozy, warm chocolate. I suspect I’m in the minority here, but I’m not a fan of warm cookies. I like my chocolate chips once they’ve returned to their solid state. The 2/3 of the cookie that I saved until it cooled off was fantastic.

4. Eataly Amarena Gelato (4.3/5): That cookie barely edged out this gelato, and I had to walk a lot farther for this. In other words, had this gelato been closer than the cookie, it would have beat it out. As you may know, I spent the summer on a quest for gelato perfection, one that was mostly disappointing with only a couple promising finds. I wanted to see if celebrity chef Mario Batali had anything to offer in the way of gelato. Hello, he’s Italian. Plus I am hugely skeptical of all these celebrity chef empires. I am pleased to say that the Amarena Gelato was the second best I’ve had outside of Italy. Texturally, it was spot on and many, many bonus points were awarded for the abundance of sour cherries. The only real downsides were the price ($6 US for a tiny cup) and that the vanilla base was overly sweet. Okay, Mario Batali, you might be the real deal.

5. Buttercup Bakery Chocolate Cake (4/5): Buttercup Bakery was started by the woman who originally opened Magnolia Bakery, so I had high hopes for this slice of cake. Its frosting to cake ratio was high, and the frosting had all the most promising characteristics: it looked firmer and more intensely chocolatey than Magnolia Bakery’s. Once again, life proved that you can’t judge a book by its cover.  The frosting was a disappointment. Sigh. I can’t put my finger on it, but it lacked the buttery factor I associate with buttercream and had a bit of a bitterness to it. The cake itself was quite good, but just ever-so-slightly less intense than Magnolia Bakery’s cake. I mean, I ate this whole piece, of course,  but I didn’t swoon with each bite.

6. Molly’s Cupcakes (3.5/5): Here is where we start to take a downward slide. I walked all the way to Greenwich Village for these cupcakes, and yes I bought two: Cookies n’ Creme and Salted Caramel. Both were filled cupcakes, for which I have a special place reserved in my heart. I will cut to the chase here and say that I was disappointed and that my massive disappointment comes down to one thing: swiss meringue buttercream. This will demonstrate my utter lack of class, but I find swiss meringue buttercream to be an abomination. For me, its mouth feel borders on repulsive and it lacks the sweetness I crave in frosting. So, while Molly’s Cupcakes cake base was actually quite good and its fillings delightful, they lost epic points for the frosting. Also, the picture below was taken after I walked fifty five city blocks back to my hotel. As you’ll see, they didn’t fare particularly well on the journey.

7. Citycakes Stuffed Red Velvet Cookie (2.5/5): Ugh, this one hurts. I was so, so, so looking forward to this one and my massive disappointment is the result of a total and complete reading failure on my part. I walked like fifty blocks expecting this beast of a cookie with ridiculously thick frosting sandwiched in the middle, because that is the picture I had seen on a blog. Well, as it turns out if I’d read the accompanying text I would have seen that picture on that blog was the cookie ice cream sandwich not the stuffed cookie. The frosting layer in the stuffed cookie was negligible to the point that I think a small piece of my heart broke the second I saw it. To add insult to injury, the outer edges of the cookie were crispy (death to crunchy cookies) and had the distinct and overwhelming taste of food colouring, which is often my complaint with red velvet in general. Let’s just say that I’m glad I bought this cookie on the day that I also bought a giant slice of chocolate cake because 50% of the cookie ended up in the garbage and I was able to drown my sorrows in the chocolate cake.

If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a medal. Also, I assume that it means your sugar addiction is right up there with mine. I hope this post saves you the heartache of the disappointing stuffed red velvet cookie and gives you enough information to find your own perfect chocolate cake should you find yourself in NYC. And lastly, a warning: if ever you plan to replicate this level of sugar consumption, I strongly recommend walking to any and all destinations. This level of sugar consumption necessitates the epic walking…and then some.

Happy desserting (yup, just made that word up)!