Friday, July 4, 2008

Ultimate Ice Cream, Ultimate summer

Greetings comrades! Did you know that July is national ice cream month? I didn't either, and if you live in San Francisco like I do, you might not think about ice cream much in July. (Seriously, it's like January out there. I walked out the door into fog so thick I couldn't see the end of the block.) But, thanks to FoodBuzz, I had the opportunity get the scoop from cookbook author, food journalist, consultant, and "ultimate cook" Bruce Weinstein. In 1999, Weinstein and fellow author Mark Scarborough published The Ultimate Ice Cream Book, whose success spawned ten more "Ultimate" books, and he was just in town promoting National Ice Cream month and Real California Milk.

The whole idea is cheesy, but National Ice Cream month is a pretty big deal for California; Americans consume 25 pints of ice cream a year, and California's 2,000 dairy families supplied 133 million gallons in 2006. And in next few months, you'll start seeing a new seal on everything that comes from our "happy cows". What does this have to do with the Guerrilla Gourmet? Find out after the jump.

Dessert has always been something I shy away from making. For some reason, I hardly flinch at weird meat, big parties, hard work, or day-to-day baking, but cakes, cookies, and pastry somehow flummox me. Ice cream, on the other hand, is easy and cheap to make yourself and is an unlimited canvas for your creativity. I've made a couple of different ice creams with a secondhand ice cream maker (including a delicious Fernet Branca and creme de menthe concoction) and the endeavor pays for itself after a few pints.

So, why devote a few hundred pages to ice cream, sorbet, and granita? Well, as Bruce said, "Ice cream is the one thing everybody loves." The Ultimate Ice Cream Book includes over 500 recipes from Avocado to White Chocolate, but Bruce's favorite is still plain boring vanilla because "it's the best way to to taste the quality of the cream...there's not enough chocolate in the world to hide bad dairy." Speaking of bad dairy, one recipe that didn't make it into the book was garlic (sorry Gilroy). Apparently, it worked okay, but "tasted like you were licking a frozen entree."

Bruce was putting together recipes for the fourth of July, and local recipes for every city he visited. I got to try the "Cable Car-a-mel Sundae*", a scoop each of vanilla and dulce de leche ice cream, topped with real, warm caramel and salted roast peanuts. A simple-seeming combination, but very good. What's Guerrrilla: If you find an old school ice cream machine secondhand ice cream is a pretty inexpensive proposition. And it's good exercise too. What's Gourmet: Making ice cream into a "sundae" is more than squeezing syrup on top. Here you get creamy and cold from the ice cream, sweet and smooth from the carmel, and salty and crunchy from the peanuts. The salty peanuts here really make the silky flavor of the carmel pop.

If you ever want ice cream without a side of elbow grease, Bruce recommends the little, local shops. He suggests J Fosters in Avon, Connecticut (informally known as "Phineas Q. Butterfat's"), Bart's, all across Massachusetts, and Ciao Bella here in San Francisco. I would add Maggie Mudd and Mitchell's to that list.

Find The Ultimate Ice Cream Book at your local independent bookstore, or at Amazon, and find real California ice cream pretty much anywhere. Also look for Weinstein's next project, Pizza: Grill it, Bake it, Love it!, in December.

*I should note here that I have lived in the Bay Area for my whole life and in San Francisco for three years and I have only ridden a cable car once, when I was 12...