I have to admit that I was a bit dubious when I got the email. “Come join us and discover firsthand why Columbus, Ohio one of the nation’s fastest rising food destination.” But having grown up in the Midwest (St. Louis, Missouri – yay Cardinals!) I’m not one to automatically dismiss the idea that a landlocked non-coastal city (that isn’t Chicago) could have a burgeoning food scene. My friends weren’t as open minded. “Really? Columbus? Really?” They would say incredulously while I explained to them for the fifth time that yes, I was flying me out to sample some of Columbus’ restaurants and food. They looked at me like I was crazy, and by the time I was on the plane (at a bright and early 5:30am) they almost had me convinced in questioning my sanity for agreeing to the trip. Thankfully my trip there had me sampling some fantastic food and hanging with some wonderful people. It also inspired me to make this perfect for winter treat – Red Wine Caramel Apple Ice Cream.
The reality is that I’m pretty darn jaded when it comes to food. I think most food bloggers are actually. Food is what we’re passionate about, food is what we write and think about constantly and food is what we’re discussing when we get together. Have you been to Restaurant X? Have you visited Food Blog Y? Did you try making Recipe Z from cookbook ABC? It’s part of who we are by nature. And coming from San Francisco, a food mecca for many, I tend to be doubly jaded.
I’ll be upfront about this trip. I was flown out by the tourism bureau Experience Columbus (hereby called “The Bureau” which makes it sound all official and slightly top secret) to sample what they considered the best food of Columbus, Ohio. All meals, travel and accommodations were paid for. Inherently, because of this, there is a going to be a skewed perspective on the experience. But let me tell you this. Most of what I had was pretty top notch. Columbus may not be on the map for most people outside of the area as a food destination (yet), but what they have, they should be proud of and it only seems to be growing.
After a relatively easy flight out there and a quick check into the hotel, I met up with the bloggers and our hosts from The Bureau at Milestone 229, where I got to sample some delectable nibblies (hello grilled shrimp with signature BBQ sauce; nice to meet you flash fried calamari) and was introduced to the gang of bloggers who I would soon be besties with for the weekend. I was thrilled to see some familiar faces including Jane from The Heritage Cook (a San Francisco bay area blogger who I had met a few weeks before) and Boston blogger Brian of A Thought for Food, an old pal of mine. Terry Boyd from the Blue Kitchen had flow in from one of my favorite cities, Chicago, and Joe from The Hungry Dudes had bounced over from Detroit. The lovely Julie from Wine Me Dine Me Cincinnati had driven over as did Laura and David from Cincinnati Nomerati. Michelle from Vanilla Icing had hopped over from Pittsburgh and local blogger Rachel from Hounds in the Kitchen met up with us as well, helping The Bureau out and giving us awesome insight to everything Columbus.
After a quick walking tour of downtown and the Columbus Commons, where we saw people boxing and stretching as well as a quick jaunt over to the Ohio Theater with it’s awesome façade, we headed over to Basi Italia, where we sampled fresh summer squash with shaved parmesan cheese, chilled tomato soup with blue cheese, as well honey pistachio flatbread (so good). I ended up with a fantastic lobster pasta but I have to admit that I had entrée envy while I eyed my blogger pals dining on the gnocchi with truffle butter, the veal ravioli or the eggplant parmesan (okay, I wasn’t as jealous of the eggplant parmesan – not that it wasn’t great, but really, lobster vs eggplant? No contest in my book).
Woozy from all the food and from the fact that I had to wake up at 4am to get to the airport, I was ready to call it a night. The Bureau had a different idea though, and thank goodness, because I think it might be the highlight of the entire trip (well, okay one of the highlights – there were many). Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream was our final stop for the evening and it lived up to the hype surrounding it.
Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much from Jeni’s. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t even heard of Jeni’s before. I can COMPLETELY blame the fact that San Francisco has seen an explosion of artisan-crafted ice creams in the past 10 years. San Francisco, in fact, is an ice cream town, through and through (from the classic institution of Mitchell’s to my neighborhood Bi-Rite Creamery to the new liquid nitrogen fueled Smitten Ice Cream and Elizabeth Falkner’s reinvented Citizen Cake Ice Cream Parlor & Eats). Why would I look for ice cream made outside the city I live in? But Jeni’s is a different creature. She not only looks at ice cream from a different perspective, she turns it inside out to try and figure out how to make a BETTER scoop.
The flavors were innovative by themselves (local and fresh happen to be the words du jour of the trip with nearly ever restaurant claiming it, but somehow it rang more true coming from Jeni’s mouth), with everything from sweet corn and black raspberry ice cream to backyard mint made from a varietal of fresh black peppermint called “Robert Mitchum Mint”. If I wasn’t insanely stuffed from dinner, I could have stayed at Jeni’s all night long.
I grew up in St. Louis where the traditional frozen dessert was a frozen custard named Ted Drewes. Jeni’s however, doesn’t use egg yolk in her ice cream, giving it a completely different texture and taste to the ice cream I’m used. The dairy fat melts at body temperature (while egg yolk fat does not, instead coating your tongue) releasing whatever flavor is suspended in the ice cream. Jeni’s doesn’t play it safe on her flavors either, from a sassy Queen City Cayenne Chocolate ice cream with a kick, to her extravagant One Night in Bangkok sundae which sounds odd in it’s flavor combinations (banana, Bangkok peanut ice cream, praline sauce, Spanish peanuts, cilantro and a giant fortune cookie) but utterly fantastic when eaten, each ice cream is loaded with taste and surprise. A revelation to me, I used Jeni’s technique as a bouncing off point to make my own ice cream flavor.
Fall came around and San Francisco shifts temperature ever so slightly but doesn’t really get the crazy autumn colors of the changing leaves. It’s sad, and I forget about how much I miss deciduous trees, until my friends start tweeting and facebooking pictures of them. It makes me want to snuggle up under a blanket, drink mulled apple cider (or mulled red wine for the weekends) and just lounge about as the days shorten and the nights grow longer. Taking inspiration from the fall and the coming winter months, as well as Jeni’s ice cream tips from her best selling book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, I concocted an ice cream flavor perfect for San Francisco, California, but inspired by Columbus Ohio. The Red Wine Caramel Apple Ice Cream. Thanks Jeni and The Bureau for the inspiration.
Special thanks go to Experience Columbus for hosting me on this trip to Columbus, Ohio. All travel, accommodations, meals and tours were provided by Experience Columbus. That said I was not compensated otherwise for what I wrote above and everything I written is my own opinion.
Special thanks to Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice cream for providing a review copy of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.
By Irvin Lin
Smokey burnt sugar caramel, fall apples that I picked up in Sebatastapol and a reasonably priced Zin that I picked up in Sonoma all work together to for this “seasonal and local” ice cream flavor, inspired by my Midwest trip to Columbus, Ohio. Instead of “swirling” and mixing in the apple chunks and candied red wine syrup, I layered it as per Jeni’s instructions from her book and it worked perfectly (though the red wine syrup did end up fall to the bottom of the container, probably because it was heavier than the ice cream. This recipe uses tapioca starch as a thickener instead of egg yolks, but if you don’t have access to that, you can use cornstarch. Because of the addition of the red wine syrup and the apples, this ice cream takes a bit of time in the freezer to harden up. Give yourself a full 24 hours to firm it up, or eat is soft with the red wine syrup drizzled on top.
Adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.
Apple mix in
1 lb (about 2 medium) firm apples, like Gravenstein, Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious
2 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups whole milk, divided
(1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) tapioca starch, sometimes called tapioca flour (you can substitute cornstarch)
1 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
(1 1/2 oz or 3 tablespoons) cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoon honey
145 g 2/3 cup white granulated sugar
Red wine syrup
1 cup + 1 tablespoon red wine, divided (choose something big, bold and cheap. Zinfandel, Cabernet or Malbec will work)
1 cup granulated sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Peel, core and chop the apples into 1/4 inch chunks. Toss with the melted butter, sugar and cinnamon. Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet and distribute evenly. Bake for 15 minutes or until the apple chunks have softened. Allow to cool as you make the rest of the ice cream.
2. Take two tablespoons of the milk, reserving the rest and place it in a small bowl. Add the tapioca starch and stir to dissolve. Split the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape the beans into the tapioca milk slurry. Reserve the pod for another use (vanilla salt maybe?). Add the vanilla extract and stir to mix the seeds and extract together with the slurry.
3. Place the cream cheese in a small bowl and add the salt. Stir together and set aside.
4. Stir the honey into the heavy cream until it has dissolved.
5. Place the sugar in a large heavy bottomed saucepan with a silver bottom (avoid nonstick, as the dark coating will make it hard to judge the caramel color). Turn the heat to high, stirring occasionally with a heat proof silicon spatula or wooden spoon. As the sugar melts, continue to stir and shake the pan so all the sugar melts evenly. Once the sugar starts to brown, turn the heat off and let the residual heat of the pan continue to caramelize the sugar. You want the caramel to turn a dark golden brown, closer to chestnut but not mahogany black. If the caramel has stopped browning or isn’t dark enough, turn the heat back on to low to give it a nudge. It’s better to go slow and let the residual heat caramelize the sugar, as you can always make the caramel darker, but you can’t go backwards and if you burn the sugar, you have to start all over).
6. Once the caramel has reached the appropriate color, add half of the cream carefully (the caramel will steam, sizzle and seize up). Turn the heat back up to medium and cook until the caramel that has hardened dissolves into the cream (this may take a few minutes). Once most of the caramel has dissolved add the remaining cream and cook until all the caramel is dissolved.
7. Add the milk and bring the liquid to a rolling boil. Cook for 4 minutes, stirring constantly and making sure it doesn’t boil over. Remove from the heat. Take the tapioca slurry and give it a good stir with a fork to mix up anything that has settled at the bottom of the bowl. Add the tapioca/vanilla slurry in a steady stream, all the while whisking ice cream base constantly. Place back on medium heat and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 more minute.
8. Remove from heat and stir in the cream cheese, whisking until the cream cheese has dissolved and the mixture is smooth.
9. Get a large metal bowl and fill it with ice and water. Place a gallon ziplock bag in the water, and then, carefully, pour the caramel ice cream base into the gallon ziplock bag. Then zip it up and submerge it under the ice. Let it sit there for 30 minutes to chill.
10. Prepare the wine syrup as the ice cream base chills. Place the 1 cup of red wine (reserving the 1 tablespoon) and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring turn the heat to medium. Stirring frequently, bring the syrup to 230˚F. Once the syrup has hit that point, pour it into a heatproof container (I used a Pyrex glass measuring cup). Add the remaining tablespoon of red wine and stir while hot. Pour the syrup into a quart size ziplock bag and submerge it in the ice water bath with the gallon ziplock bag for 10 minutes. When the 10 minutes are up, move the quart ziplock bag of wine syrup to the freezer to chill while you churn the ice cream.
11. Once the ice cream base is chilled, freeze the ice cream according to the directions of your machine.
12. When the ice cream is done churning, take a plastic container that is large enough to hold the ice cream and layer the wine syrup, ice cream and apples chunks in it, alternating layers to mix the three together. Cover the top of the ice cream with wax paper or parchment paper and let it harden in the freezer overnight hours.
Makes about 1 quart of ice cream