Wednesday, August 18, 2010

All Scream for Ice Cream!!

Nothing, I think, sums up the exuberant hopefulness of childhood quite as well as the ice-cream man's jingle. Almost as anticipated as the last school bell, kids line their streets having, by mid-summer, already figured out at what point of the day he will round their corner and shower them with his coveted frozen confections. This Pavlovian response has to be about more than just the ice cream inside? doesn't it? After all, those rocket pops and drumsticks are all fine and dandy, but are they really any good to anyone over the age of ten? The Good Humor man ultimately serves an age-old purpose, luring in a new generation of ice-cream consumer with a cheery jungle and a brightly colored truck. By the time they are in their mid-twenties these kids are just the type of conditioned mass to shell out big bucks for the next gourmet ice-cream phenomenon (Coldstone Creamery anyone?)

Now with that being said, I LOVE ice-cream. Coldstone Creamery was actually the first place of food business to hire me at the ripe young age of fourteen. To this day I still maintain that working at Coldstone was the most fun job I have ever had. Even though I was making minimum wage and came home smelling like waffle cones, I got to play with food all day! Making ice-cream, decorating ice-cream cakes, dipping waffle cones in molten chocolate, and yes, singing Coldstone jingles I was tipped.

I think that there is nothing better than a perfectly creamy bowl of ice cream. And oh! the choices we have now when it comes to flavor! The big ice cream companies have given a serious face lift to the boring trifecta of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream flavors of yesteryear.

Some of my very favorite new flavors come from a brand that has been taking the world by storm with their creative American take on classic Italian gelato. Ciao Bella Gelato started in New York City's Little Italy in the early 1980's and has since exploded onto the ice-cream scene. With creative flavors like Key Lime graham, Matcha Green Tea, Malted Milk Ball, Banana Mango, Maple Ginger Snap, and Blackberry Cabernet (a personal favorite), it is no wonder why this company continues to grow. All of their flavors are bold, clean, and surprisingly perfect frozen versions of their culinary inspirations.

Also worth noting about Ciao Bella Gelato is that all of their products are Kosher as well as gluten free, making their gelato accessible to a larger audience than most ice-creams. There is no other company that can compare to Ciao Bella at the moment, they have the gelato market on its knees and aren't ready to give up supremacy any time soon. Personally I can't wait to try whatever new and exciting flavors they come up with next.

There is certainly an exploding market for specialty or 'gourmet' flavors in the ice-cream world, and everyone is getting in on it. Häagen-Dazs, a company that has been producing ice cream since 1961 has recently revamped their marketing approach and come out with a new line of ice-creams called '5' (a nod to the fact that they claim to use only five all-natural ingredients in the line's production). They have also taken a note from the advertising book of health-food giant Kaashi with a powerful new commercial showcasing a naturalistic approach to creating flavor and a commitment to quality. This has to be one of the best new image campaigns in the food world I have seen. The first time I saw it I thought it had to be a health food commercial. I was pleasantly shocked when, at the end, it was good-ol' Haagen-Dazs, a company I had never looked at as particularly progressive. They were just an ice-cream company! A great one that made tasty ice-cream, yes, but a role model for the new food revolution? Alice Waters be proud, you've got another one.

Here's the commercial that started it all:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer Institutions: Part 1: Ode to the Hot Dog

As we make our way into the last lazy month of summer I think its as a good a time as any to reflect on some of my favorite summer foods. Of all the summer time treats to choose from I must say that two reign supreme over all others, the hot dog and the ice cream cone. To me, no summer is complete without a sizzling grill and the promise of sweet frozen bliss for dessert.

Let us set our sights on the magestic hot dog, snuggled tightly into a lightly toasted bun and smothered with an array of topings as varied and colorful as ones imagination.
To me, the hot dog represents all that is great and perverse in the world of food. A cacophony of ground meat parts and fat all stuffed begrudgingly into a synthetic or (if you're lucky) organic intestine casing, cooked to tenderness on a grill or in a boiling vat of water, and finally set to rest in a perfectly designed bun, ready to be topped and eaten with pleasure. As someone who values the purity of fresh ingredients and holds fine food in high esteem, the hot dog is my guiltiest of pleasures. The total opposite of anything I would herald as good food. However, what would this world be if not for the simple and cheap thrill of a hot dog at a ball game, or a Nathan's Coney Island hot dog eating contest, or even the steaming aroma of the corner Sabretti stand. As a New York girl, hot dogs are as much an institution as pizza or pastrami on rye. This being the case, us New Yorkers are very particular on how we eat our hot dogs.

Personally, I am a Hebrew National girl myself, comforted somehow by the promise of a higher quality of meat-filled casing. However, it has long been heralded that the Sabretti hot dog is the king of New York dogs. In a city filled with people that demand myriad choices and flock to the "new thing" in herds of crazed hysteria, we are all traditionalists when it comes to the hot dog. One curly line of bright yellow French's mustard down the middle. That's it. Toast your bun if you must, and in my case prefer, but mustard is all you need for a traditional New York frank. Of course the other classic toppings are available, ketchup, onions, sauerkraut, and relish are available at all sidewalk hot dog stands; however the real purists know one needs only a steady hand on the mustard bottle.

If you are looking for something a little more outlandish when it comes to your hot dog choice in NYC, then look no further than Crif Dogs located at 113 Saint Marks Place. Long has this Saint Marks institution been voted the #1 hot dog spot in the city, a serious honor and a well-deserved privilege. The hot dog joint was opened in October 2001 by two childhood friends and hot dog enthusiasts from New Jersey, Chris Antista and Brian Shebairo. A haven for late night eaters and East Village riff-raff, Crif Dogs is open Sunday-Thursday noon till 2am and until 4am on weekends. Crif Dogs offers a variety of gourmet dogs including (but not limited to) the chihuahua dog (bacon wrapped and topped with avocado and sour cream), the jon-jon deragon (served with a schmear of cream cheese, scallions, and everything bagel seeds), the morning glory (bacon wrapped and served with melted cheese and a fried egg), and the spicy red neck (bacon wrapped and topped with chili, cole slaw, and jalapenos). you can also create your own specialty dog from their array of exotic and traditional toppings. The possibilities are absolutely endless and positively delicious. Come on, who wouldn't want a bacon-wrapped-cream-cheese-filled-jalapeno-topped hot dog at 3am after a night of drinking in the Village?

If you happen to find yourself hungry for a quality hot dog in my neck of the woods however, there is one place that has stood the test of time as the best darn dog in Westchester County, NY. Do not be decieved by the Chinese pagoda, or the long counter line, Walter's Hot Dog Stand has been open since 1919 and hasn't changed the menu since. Walter Warrington opened his hot dog stand selling his special variation on a traditional treat: split down the middle, grilled in 'secret sauce', served on a toasted bun with homemade mustard. The business moved into the eye-catching and now historic landmark Chinese pagoda in 1928 and has remained at 937 Palmer Ave in Mamaroneck, NY, pumping out its signature dogs for the hungry masses. Don't be fooled by the decor, where Crif Dogs wins on originality, Walter's wins on simplicity. I grew up with these hot dogs, a staple at every soft-ball game and a treat that I find myself waiting in line for every summer. They are in a word, sublime. Juicy beyond belief, dripping with a sweet and salty buttery concoction, and made to order these hot dogs are incredible.

So there you have it, my shameful love for all things 'dog' broadcast over the internet. An ode to the perverted cousin of the sausage that will surely bite me in my ass one day when I have all but forgotten about this, my first food blog. Hot dogs will never be haute cuisine, it is not in their nature, nor would we all love them so much if they were. They are simple and cheap and almost surely a cause of some kind of cancer. Yet we as American's scarf them up during the summer months with such ferocity one would think they had magical properties.

And maybe they do. Maybe their power lies in the ability with one bite to transport us all to a simpler time, a time in our childhood filled with running through sprinklers and backyard cookouts. A time when we didn't care what was in it, only that it tasted good. A time when we could eat as many as we wanted because there was no fear of running out, there were always going to be more coming off the grill later.