The tweet came in on Wednesday afternoon. I had decided to check twitter because the tedium of work demanded that I take a break “Ice-cream social is drop-in event open to everyone! Come one, come all! Only RSVP if you are bringing an addition to the Sundae Bar! 7PM Th.” said 18 Reasons. Oh man. I had one day to bake something delicious for the sundae bar…and that something was Almond Congo Bars as well as Balsamic Vinegar Strawberry Fudge Brownies! Because why show up with just one thing, when you can show up with two (also I could get AJ and me in for free if we showed up with two things)?
Ice Cream Social?!?! How old fashion and fabulous! I love it! And though I’ve been a bit burned out lately running around doing the millions of things including working, I decided it would be fun to go.
I had been to 18 Reasons about a month ago for their cookbook swap. It was there I ran into Celia from Omnivore Books where she picked up my donation to the swap. The classic “Reynold’s Wrap Creative Cooking with Aluminum Foil” that my friend Cris has given me post-garage sale (why no one picked it up at the garage sale is BEYOND me). I almost held on to it, but I felt like someone else out there could appreciate it more than me. It needed to find a home where it was loved.
The cookbook swap had me walking away with the classic “Desserts to Die For” a slightly outdated but still classic dessert cookbook (I got mostly for the decoration and presentation tips). The other book I picked up was Knife Skills in the Kitchen by Charlie Palmer, Marcus Wareing, Shaun Hill and Lyn Hill. I could always brush up on my knife skills, even I don’t cook as much as I bake.
It was at the swap that I got to talking to some of the people at 18 Reasons. It’s a pretty awesome nonprofit organization, that holds some pretty awesome events. They, of course, ask if I was a member, and I told them I wasn’t. They asked me why not, and I leaned in conspiratorially. “Can I tell you secret? I’m competing in the next upcoming SF Food Wars and I’m hoping to win and thereby winning a membership to 18 Reasons!”
They were very much excited by my response. “I LOVE the SF Food Wars!” “That is so awesome!” They proceeded to tell me all the things I needed to do to win the event.
“First you have to remember to be ON. You have to really sell yourself!” she said. But then she followed up with “But you shouldn’t have a problem with that. You totally have presence.” HA!
“Second you have to remember to decorate your table. It’s all about presentation.” I responded back “Well, actually I’m a graphic designer so…”
“Oh NO PROBLEM! PERFECT! You’re golden!” She replied ever so pleased!
“Oh yeah, and you have to have a great tasting pie as well. But that goes without saying.” I nodded in agreement. That was just common sense.
I left the cookbook swap, went on to win the two top awards for the SF Food Wars, but sadly, the top awards I won didn’t include a membership to 18 Reasons (the People’s Choice Honorable mention got that).
All of that didn’t matter. I decided I was going to go to the Ice Cream Social and bring a couple of “toppings” to it, so I could get in for free. Plus it was an excuse for me to bake. Because, that’s what I do. I bake.
I decided it was super easy for me to make my almond congo bars, an adaptation of David Lebovitz’s Congo Bars. At this point it’s something I can do in my sleep (you can find a gluten free version of it here).
But I wanted to do something different with the other topping. Something I had never done before. I wanted to do a brownie, because who doesn’t love brownies on ice cream sundaes? Brownies with a little bit of a twist. I poked around the fridge and saw I had some strawberries from the farmer’s market that were looking a little like they needed to be used up rather fast. Strawberry and chocolate go LOVELY together don’t they? DONE!
I had originally planned to go with a famous food photographer and his equally famous food stylist husband, who were in from out of town for work, but sadly they backed out at the last minute, citing exhaustion (completely understandably, having been on photo shoots for work, I know it can wipe a person out). But AJ and I forged ahead and boy were we glad we did.
18 Reasons is affiliated with Bi Rite Creamery (and you KNOW how much we love Bi Rite Creamery!), so of course, there were a couple of awesome quarts of Bi Rite Ice Cream made with Straus Family Cream. Vanilla, Salted Caramel, a few other flavors we were familiar with. But the flavors and ice creams that other people brought was what made everything so exciting!
Vanilla Bean with Recchiuti bittersweet chocolate chip was just as amazing as it sounds (Michael Recchiuti would approve of it, I am sure). Honey roasted Peanut Butter ice cream was salty sweet creamy (and a little melty by the time we got there). Double Ginger had a great little kick to it and went well with some of the amazing toppings that people brought.
Meyer Lemon Creamsicle w/raw milk from Jilli Ice Cream rocked – smooth creamy and sweetly tart. Raw milk has natural enzymes in it that helps break down the lactose which means those of who are lactose intolerant can enjoy it! Double butterscotch made with goats milk was AJ’s favorite (and quite pleasing to me too, as goat’s milk is friendly to those of us who are lactose intolerant as well).
And lets not forget the toppings! Pear Caramel Sauce was fantastic sweet and fruity. Earl Grey infused Dates syrup by Nimisha over at Club Dine In was so tasty sweet and slightly earthy. Homemade salted caramel syrup is one of AJ’s favorite toppings, burnt sugar taken to edge, with whispers of smoke. And the spiced peach sauce, made with organic peaches and cinnamon, cardamon and agave nectar was wonderful on the ginger ice cream.
Of course, I couldn’t resist the using some chocolate chips from bi-rite and some sprinkles as well. Sprinkles pretty much make all ice cream taste yummy. And of course, AJ and I discovered the crunchy sweet and salty pink white chocolate popcorn right as we were leaving. Doh!
The almond congo bars were pretty popular, but the strawberry balsamic brownies were the definite hit. None left. People went crazy for them! I ALWAYS love seeing people eat my baked goods and that night was no exception. Rich, dense, fudgy with a hint of strawberry fruit (with the balsamic vinegar’s acidity cutting the sweetness while intensifying the fruitiness), the brownies were a great contemporary update to the same old brownie you always have. Even Nimisha over at Club Dine In told me that she loved them, and that’s a woman who knows her food!
Side note. Club Dine In is about not only eating healthy and being healthy, but also about keeping the environment around you healthy as well. We’re all connected, something I truly believe in. Of course, I tried to tell Nimisha that my brownies were healthy brownie, as I had used organic local strawberries and organic balsamic vinegar but I don’t know if that worked or not. She still seem to enjoy them, healthy or not.
I met some awesome people, talked chemistry, physical biology, art and photography, and food, food, food with them. Talked about the SF Food Wars contest and about maybe opening up my own little kiosk shop in Bernal Heights selling baked goods (hmmmmmm…. *stroking chin as I think*) and was told by someone the volunteer coordinator of 18 Reason that I now had “Pie Street Cred” since I had won the SF Food Wars contest!
Pie Street Cred. I like that.
AJ and I left the Ice Cream Social content, full of creamy goodness, and pleased to have met some wonderful people. I can’t wait for the next event. Maybe we’ll see you there! Check out 18 Reasons calendar for more upcoming events. They’ll soon be moving to a new location (right near the Bi Rite Creamery) which means a bigger space and (hopefully) more events!
Whilst baking, I listened to The National’s High Violet. It’s AJ’s new favorite album, though he can never retain the name of the band. He keeps on turning to me asking me who’s playing again.
Balsamic Vinegar Strawberry Fudge Brownies
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes.
For the Strawberry Balsamic Jam:
3 teaspoons of Aged Balsamic vinegar (divided)
1 tablespoon organic sugar
1 cup strawberries, chopped into 1/4” pieces (measure the cup AFTER you chop the strawberries, not before)
1 teaspoon of tapioca flour
1. Put the chopped strawberries, sugar, tapioca flour and 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar into a heavy saucepan on stove.
2. Cook over medium heat until the berries disintegrate and the jam thickens. About 5 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the reserved 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. Put aside while you make the brownie mix.
6 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 oz of bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs at room temperature (see note)
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Take a piece of foil (or parchment paper) and line the inside of a 9” x 9″ square pan, leaving a couple of inches overhang. Repeat going the opposite way, if the foil/paper doesn’t reach properly. This will allow you pull the brownies up from the pan, without having to dig around in it, ruining your pan and your brownies.
2. Put the butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan. Over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate together.
3. Remove from the stove and beat in the sugar and vanilla.
4. Add the first egg and salt and beat. Then add the other egg, repeat. Add the flour.
5. This is important. Stir the batter for a full minute or so until the mixture looks smooth and glossy and loses it’s graininess. Your arm with ache and you’ll be thinking to yourself, “Good grief, this is the longest minute ever!” but the brownies will come out all crumbly and dry if you don’t. You want to get the flour completely hydrated and absorbed into the batter.
6. Pour the batter into the pan. Spoon the jam onto and swirl a knife around, making sure to pull some of the jam to the edges of the pan. Don’t swirl too much though, or the jam will just get incorporated into the brownie batter and it won’t looks as pretty. Also you’ll get air pockets. Again not pretty.
7. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes or until the center looks set. Don’t overbake, these brownies are suppose to be fudgy.
8. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan before you pull them out. To get perfectly cut brownies, you can freeze the brownies beforehand. But I’m not that fussy.
Note: I’m usually forgetful and totally don’t take my eggs out in time to bring them to room temperature. So what I do is just take them out when I need them and stick them in a bowl of hot(ish) water (from the tap – not boiling!). I leave them in there, pull them out after 30 seconds or so, shake them in my hand to see how the inside feels, and then stick them back in the bowl to repeat if the inside of the egg feels too cool. Usually it takes a minute or two to get to them to room temperature.