Guest Blogger – Mint Chocolate Chip Coconut Milk Ice Cream

After experiencing fresh sorbet at some recent dinners, we decided that it was time to add to our growing list of kitchen gadgets.  Not that we have room for an ice cream maker, but some things are worth cluttering for.

We first tried to make a vegan strawberry sorbet and quickly learned that skipping simple syrup, while making it vegan, also meant that we were really only making water ice.  One Saturday while Mel was at school, I decided to experiment and made a strawberry sorbet with simple syrup.  This turned out fresh and creamy, just like we had at restaurants.

My sister Sarah and I are obsessed with mint chocolate chip ice cream.  We have been since we were little kids going to the Frosted Mug in Beach Haven, New Jersey.  We even made up our own little song to go along with the experience; get us drunk enough and I am sure we would do it as adults (Mel hasn’t even heard said song yet!).  I knew that Mint Chocolate Chip had to be the next treat to come out of our ice cream maker.  Luckily Mel loves MCC ice cream also, and it was her idea to add fresh mint to the frozen concoction.

We made some tweaks, most notably using coconut milk instead of dairy milk.  This was really easy, and very minty.  Just like it should be.

4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 13.5oz can light coconut milk
13.5 oz of carton coconut milk
3 tsp peppermint extract
2 tsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 cup chocolate chips

1.  Be sure to follow your ice cream maker’s instructions regarding preparation of the machine.  We have a Cuisinart unit which has a bowl that is frozen for a minimum of 12 hours prior to use.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, sugar, coconut milk, and peppermint extract.
3.  Start the ice cream maker and slowly pour the mixture into the machine.  Set timer for 15 minutes.
4.  After 15 minutes, add the fresh mint and the chocolate chips.  It is very important to wait until the ice cream starts to thicken otherwise the mint and chips will sink to the bottom.
5.  Continue churning the ice cream for another 10-15 minutes until fully set.
6.  Remove from ice cream maker and transfer into an air tight container.

The ice cream will be ready for immediate enjoyment or you can save it for later.  Depending on your freezer settings, it may be necessary to thaw the ice cream after freezing.


California Wine Country

As I mentioned in my previous post, the “meat” of our Northern California vacation sandwich was Napa and Sonoma.  After our legs were sore from traipsing up and down the hills of downtown San Francisco, we were looking forward to the leisurely pace of its neighboring wine country.

We spent our first afternoon at Sonoma Plaza, the historic “downtown” square.  By recommendation, we had lunch at The Girl and The Fig, where we sat on the lovely outdoor terrace and enjoyed a classic Croque Madame and a pulled pork sandwich with a glass of wine. Dave and I love a good sculpture garden and not far from the square was Cornerstone Sonoma.

After checking into our hotel in Napa, we had pre-dinner cocktails at Cuvee, a nearby establishment that served wine out of barrels, reminiscent of a keg.

Since Dave was the reservations secret keeper, unbeknownst to me, our first dinner in Napa was at La Toque, located in the The Westin Verasa Napa resort. It was pretty empty when we arrived and stayed that way throughout our meal. We both tried antelope for the first time and their “drowned lobster” dish was excellent, but otherwise I’m not sure how this place has a Michelin Star.

The next day was filled with wine tastings at Silver Oak, Caymus, and Cakebread. We drove through Yountville on our way to the wineries, where the renowned chef Thomas Keller is basically the mayor. We grabbed breakfast at Bouchon Bakery, Keller’s Patisserie. This is where we started our love affair with French macarons. The other baked goods we ate, a piece of coffee cake and a blueberry muffin, were also to die for.

Our winery selecting strategy was based on which wines were expensive enough that we wouldn’t buy them at home. That’s where we want to go. We started out with a tour at Silver Oak, since Dave had never witnessed the wine making process and I find it fascinating.  These are the steel barrels where the grapes are processed and made into wine

Here are the oak barrels where the wine ages

Next was a tasting at Caymus, where we tried a Cab and Sauvignon Blanc from the original Caymus brand, and a Rose from their Belle Glos brand. After consuming plenty of wine for the morning, we took a break for lunch before our last tasting at Cakebread. We stopped in Brix, a restaurant on the main highway, Rte 29. Again, we were able to sit outdoors on the back patio and admire the beautiful landscape of Napa. As oyster lovers, we dined on Hama Hama oysters from the Pacific Northwest and a juicy lamb burger. One thing we noticed during our time in Napa is that the food was consistently fresh.

Cakebread was our last stop for the day, and it was our favorite. On our way back to the hotel, we happened to drive by the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. I wanted to get a peek of what the CIA is like. The building and facilities put my culinary school to shame!  It was absolutely beautiful.

We loved Bouchon so much that we stopped there again for a late afternoon snack. More macarons.

Dinner was at Lucy Bar and Restaurant, in the Bardessono resort. This restaurant was the epitome of fresh. Some of the vegetables were picked straight from Lucy’s Garden on the premises, including the carrot confit salad I ordered.  The dungeness crab Thai coconut curry and lobster risotto were phenomenal, and Dave deemed his short ribs the best he ever had.

The theme of the day was “my favorite wine from the tasting was the most expensive.” We splurged on bottles at Silver Oak and Cakebread (both Cabs), and bought mid-range bottles of Rose and Sauvignon Blanc from Caymus.

The next day we headed back to San Francisco.  As Dave snapped pictures between winery visits, he kept saying the landscape in Napa doesn’t look real.

Doesn’t this make you want to go and visit?

Left My Heart in San Francisco – Twice

The last time I was in San Francisco was 2004, and I coincidentally left behind a small part of my heart. Eight years later, during my spring break from culinary school, I had the opportunity to reclaim it.

San Francisco is one of my top two favorite cities in the country (Philadelphia, my current stomping ground being the other), so I was thrilled to be able to share my love of SF with Dave, and retrieve that piece of my heart.

We split our 5 days in the Bay area between San Francisco and Napa.  The bread of our sandwich was time spent in SF.  The first night we stayed at the Hotel Vertigo in Nob Hill.  I am a huge Hitchcock fan, so I was excited to stay where they filmed the second part of the movie Vertigo.  During the filming it was The Empire Hotel, now it offers lodging in chic surroundings.

After checking in, we laboriously walked the hills from Nob Hill to Fisherman’s Wharf.  The only reprieve were the views from the top.

I was jonesing for some fresh Dungeness crab and assumed Fisherman’s Wharf would be the perfect spot.  I imagined it would be similar to what you can find in Maine; fresh lobster right off the boat.  We did see live crabs, but what we mostly saw was a big tourist trap.Thanks to modern technology, we searched Yelp for the best place to find fresh crab in Fisherman’s Wharf.  It referred us to Scoma’s, a long-standing overpriced Rat Pack-era restaurant, where even at lunch the servers are wearing white dinner jackets and tuxedo pants.  We still ordered Dungeness crab cocktail (which was admittedly fresh), a trio of Pacific Coast oysters, and two Stella Artois.  After a $50 lunch, I was over this place.

Next was on to the famous Ghirardelli Square, not far from Fisherman’s Wharf.

We quickly walked through the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Manufactory, that had rooms of gift basket and samplings of their famous chocolate squares.  No need for a souvenir since you can buy Ghirardelli nationwide.  Across the square is Kara’s Cupcakes which has a variety of creative cupcakes and is good for a sweet snack if you are in the neighborhood.

We trekked back to the hotel to get ready for the Counting Crows concert at the Fox Theater in Oakland.  We grabbed a bite in the neighborhood at Nob Hill Grille, where they offer decent gastropub fare.  I felt like a certified San Franciscan, eating at a local obscure joint.  When in Rome….

I love me some Adam Duritz, so I was excited to see the Counting Crows for the 7th time in the area where they formed.  The concert itself wasn’t one of my favorites, but the venue rocked.  I’m a sucker for an Art Deco theater, and The Fox Theater met all of my expectations.  The intricate craftsmanship on the ceiling alone was amazing!

After two wonderful days in Napa, (which I’ll tell you about in a subsequent post), we headed back to the City By The Bay.  We made a wrong turn somewhere, and ended up taking the Bay Bridge back instead of the Golden Gate as originally planned.  But it was a blessing in disguise.  I needed a pit stop, so we got off at Treasure Island, which turned out to have amazing views of the skyline (and bathrooms too).

Once we crossed the bridge, we headed towards the Golden Gate and snapped some obligatory touristy pictures.

We were getting hungry for lunch, and I was determined to go where the Tanner’s, Uncle Jesse, and Uncle Joey lived.  Turns out it is called “Alamo Square.”  We grabbed sandwiches to go at Alamo Square Cafe, and had a picnic in the square, overlooking the city, and the famous “Painted Ladies.”

Dave had made all the dinner reservations before we left and kept them a secret.  At the time of our trip I was eating mainly a plant-based diet, and he surprised me with dinner at what was touted on the internet as the “Best Vegan Restaurant” in San Francisco, named Millennium.  And it happened to be right across the street from our second hotel, Hotel Monaco.  They did a nice job of creating dishes that made the vegetables sing with flavor, plus Dave found a new favorite potato, the Kennebec potato.  But overall, we were underwhelmed.  Vedge in Philadelphia is much better for vegan fare.

For a night cap, we went to Top of the Mark, on the 19th floor of the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel.  With beautiful views of the city, this is a romantic spot – perfect for a date or evening out with your special someone.

I purposely, I mean accidentally, forgot to take my heart back with me on the plane. Oops!  Ironically, Dave said he left part of his stomach in Napa, specifically at Bouchon.  I guess that means we’ll have to go back soon.

Sauteed String Beans with Tomatoes and Almonds

This recipe for sauteed string beans with tomatoes and almonds is an easy and healthy side dish to serve with any meal. And quick too!  Blanching the string beans first allows them to keep their bright green color.

String Beans with Tomatoes and Almonds
1 lb green beans or haricot verts
1 Tbsp olive oil or butter
1 – 2 beefsteak tomatoes
1/2 cup of slivered almonds

1. Blanch the green beans – Bring a pot of water to a boil, and cook the green beans for 2 – 3 minutes or until they are bright green.  Immediately emerge them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.  Meanwhile, cut tomatoes into wedges.

2.  Place a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the oil and swirl pan to coat.  Add green beans to skillet and cook for about 2 minutes.  *Note:  don’t cook too long or they will lose their bright green color.

3.  Arrange green beans on plate or platter and garnish with tomatoes and almonds.

Favorite Crispy Fried-Fish Tacos

Has this ever happened to you:  a magazine subscription starts showing up in your mailbox, and your not sure how it got there? This happened to me (twice actually), and it is how I ended up getting this recipe for fish tacos which has become a favorite in our household.

My only explanation is that I must have subscribed to a trial offer for Food and Wine magazine a few years back, and had forgotten about it.  I only received a few issues, however every year after, their annual cookbooks started showing up at my doorstep.  This recipe is from the 2011 edition.

Dave and I started making these Asian crispy fried-fish tacos within the first few months of our courtship.  Now they are often in our week night meal rotation. For me, it’s the hoisin mayonnaise that makes this dish worthwhile.  For Dave, I think he just likes to fry things. Admittedly, the prep work is a little time consuming, but you’ll thank me when it’s all over.  Even if you have dishes overflowing in the sink.

Note:  It’s helpful to have an oil/candy thermometer on hand to monitor the temperature of the oil.

Crispy Fried-Fish Tacos
From Tomas Lee via Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2011
Makes 12 Tacos

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp sweet pickle relish
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 lb tilapia filets, cut into 4-by-1-inch strips
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups panko bread crumbs
3 cups vegetable oil, for frying
12 corn tortillas, warmed
Shredded green cabbage, lettuce leaves, cilantro and sliced scallions, for serving

1. In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the hoisin sauce, sweet pickle relish and fresh lemon juice and set aside.

2. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and white pepper.  Seal the bag and shake.  Add the fish and shake to coat.

3.  Put the eggs and panko in separate shallow bowls.  Dip the fish in the egg and then in the panko. Transfer the fish to a wax paper-lined platter.

4. In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil to 350 degrees.  Add half the fish and fry over moderate heat, turning once, until golden, about 3 minutes.  Drain the fish on a paper towel-lined platter. Repeat with the remaining fish.  Serve the fish in the tortillas, passing the hoisin mayonnaise, cabbage, lettuce, cilantro and scallions for serving.

Some Like It Hot: Dan Dan Noodles

No, I am not talking about the 1959 Some Like It Hot movie, where Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dress in drag to protect themselves from gangsters, all the while each trying to snag Marilyn Monroe for themselves.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s a classic and highly recommended.

I am actually talking about Dan Dan Noodles, another classic, but of the Szechuan varietal.  The first time I had Dan Dan Noodles was at Han Dynasty, a tasty Chinese BYOB in Philadelphia.  They were so good, yet so spicy, that I was hurriedly shoving them in my mouth so I could try and savor the dish, without my mouth being on fire for too long.  The second time I had them, I knew better, ordered them milder, and they did not disappoint.

I came across a recipe for the dish on Food and Wine magazine’s web site, and decided to make them.  I made some tweaks of my own  by removing the jalapeno’s, using gluten-free spaghetti, and replacing peanut butter with almond butter.  The result?  A fantastic replacement for Sunday night take out.  I guess that is what makes these noodles a classic, you can eat (or watch) it over and over and enjoy it every time.

Dan Dan Noodles
Adapted from Joanne Chang via


1 small jalapeno, minced (optional)
1 small garlic clove, halved
One 1/4-inch slice of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup peanut or almond butter
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Sriracha chile sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Kosher salt
1 lb spaghetti, chow mein, or other ribbon pasta
Cucumber matchsticks, sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, sesame seeds and lime halves, for garnish

1. In  a food processor, add the jalapeno, garlic and ginger and process until minced. Add the peanut butter, soy sauce, water, rice vinegar, Sriracha, sugar and sesame oil and process until smooth. Season generously with salt.

2. In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the noodles until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water; pat dry. Toss the noodles with the dressing and mound in serving bowls; top with the garnishes and serve.

Spaghetti Squash with Pesto

Dave and I are avid shoppers of the Italian Market in South Philly, and when the weekend permits, we walk down and do our weekly produce shopping.  Lately, we have been enjoying the abundance of winter produce like turnips and butternut squash.  We recently stumbled upon spaghetti squash, and it is now our seasonal favorite.
It takes a while to cook, but once it is done, the contents get scrapped out and the flesh turns spaghetti-like.

However, I will warn you that it doesn’t taste or act like spaghetti.  When I say “act like”, I mean it isn’t easy to toss in sauce.  But it is pretty darn tasty and is a good alternative for those on a low-carb or gluten-free diet.  My favorite is with pesto and peas, seen here.
For the pesto, the recipe I am including uses basil, but you can really use any herbs or greens that you have on hand — like parsley, spinach or kale.  Traditionally made, pesto will call for pine nuts or walnuts.  I learned in culinary school that those who were poor in Italy used walnuts and rich Italian folks used pine nuts.  Tastes good to me either way!

Spaghetti Squash with Pesto and Peas

To Make the Spaghetti Squash
Adapted from, Emeril Lagasse

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Using 1 small spaghetti squash, about 2 1/4 pounds, cut the squash with a sharp knife in half lengthwise and place, cut side down, in a baking dish. If it is too hard to cut, put the squash in the microwave for about 45 seconds, and it should soften a bit.

2) Add enough water to come 1/2-inch up the sides of the baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes, until the squash is easily pierced with a paring knife. Turn squash over and cover with foil again and continue to cook another 15 minutes, until the squash is very tender.

3) Remove from the oven, uncover, and allow to cool slightly. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and discard. Using a fork, gently pull the strands of squash away from the peel and place the squash strands into a mixing bowl.

4) Add butter, oil or any seasonings of your preference to add some flavor.

To Make the Pesto

4 bunch basil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup olive oil (add more if needed)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated (omit this for a vegan version)
ground black pepper, to taste

1) Using a food processor, grind the basil, garlic, nuts and oil until a paste is formed.  Pulse in the grated cheese.  Season with salt and pepper.