Category Archives: Desserts

Travelogue: Perugia’s World of Chocolate

th_peruroma 018After being warmly greeted into Umbria during our day-time detour to Lake Trasimeno, we arrived into Perugia late in the evening when most of the residents of the historic core had already retired for the night. There was no traffic,no people walking around like we had seen in Florence and Venice. The streets were quiet and the roads, much more difficult to maneuver. We had rented a very small compact car,  and yet one wrong turn got us stuck between two buildings with no way out. How do these Perugians get around in cars? And more importantly, how the hell did that truck in front of squeeze its way through??

Only a local can truly answer these questions–and if anything, “years of practice” would have to suffice. Amid our frustrated cursing, we were subjected to the kindness of a stranger. An old man just happened to walk by and despite the language barrier, was able to help us out. We eventually checked into our hotel and called it a night. Walking to the hotel, we noticed that the shops were closed and many of the roads were blocked off. It turned out,we had not only chosen the wrong time to get into historic Perugia, but also the wrong day. EuroChocolate, one of the largest chocolate festivals in Europe would be taking place that weekend.

EuroChocolate! I had completely forgotten about this. In my quest to hunt down the season’s first white truffles,I had neglected the very thing that has put Perugia on an international map: chocolate! I’m sure you’ve perused the candy aisle of your major grocery store and have seen Perugina Baci’s. Similar to the golden-wrapped Ferrero Rochers, these little guys are hazelnut praline kisses adorned in silver and blue tin foil. Perugina, established in 1907 is one of the most recognizable Italian brands in the world, and is the major sponsor of EuroChocolate; bringing hundreds of vendors into the region once a year.

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To compensate for not being able to attend EuroChocolate this year, we decided to shoot for the next best thing.Thanks to a few recommendations,we made our way to Cioccolateria Augusta. Established in 2000,this small
chocolate shoppe is the ultimate spot for chocolate gelato and truffles.After having worked for Perugina for 25 years, Giordano surely knows a thing or two about high-quality chocolate. Located off the main stretch of retail
shops, nearly directly behind Perugina’s factory and shop, Augusta is a must try. We indulged in the best chocolate-flavored gelatos of our trip and took home some hot cocoa mix at reasonable prices.

For a sweet pick-me up in the afternoon or in lieu of a morning cappuccino,  dive into a thick European-style hot chocolate at Sandri. This pasticceria has been serving Perugia continuously since 1860…1860!! We started our mornings at this historic spot on the chic Corso Vannucci and walked right up to the counter. Their hot chocolate is dense so don’t forget to ask for some pana (whipped cream). You order first, indulge at the counter, then pay the nice lady at the antique cash register. Inexpensive, but no less luxurious.

Lastly, if you *must* visit Perugina, you may do so just a few steps away from Sandri. Load up on some gifts for friends and if you’re in the mood, tour their factory. For me though, a stroll through town with gelato from Augusta or a coffee break at Sandri was all I needed.

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Filed under Chocolate, Comfort Food, Desserts, Italian, Italy, Travel

Pittsburgh’s Dream Cream Serves Ice Cream with a Purpose

Things have been a little busy on this end of the computer screen, which is great for work but not great for this blog. As my week is slowly winding down, this ridiculous heat wave we’ve got in southern California has got me thinking about ice cream and everything relating to it. So before I embark on my quest for a frosty delight, I want to tell you about a great little ice cream shop we stumbled upon in downtown Pittsburgh.

Dream Cream Ice Cream located in the heart of downtown’s Cultural District serves quality ice cream flavors with a social/charitable twist.  This modest storefront that occupies a former camera shop was founded just a few months ago as part of the Pop-Up Project: Downtown initiative which gives local entrepreneurs a rent-free short-term lease in an empty downtown space to help re-build the area and introduce new local businesses. This concept is fantastic, as it gives people a vessel in which to get a head-start on their businesses.

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There are several Dream flavors available daily that are all tied to a special cause [see photos]. The boyfriend’s cousin Dan had mentioned that his friends were starting up their own brewery, so we were excited to see that the purchase of Birthday Bash ice cream would give them a percentage of the total sales of that flavor. Owner Thomas (who founded Dream Cream with his girlfriend) was on hand to explain the whole idea behind Dream Cream and was a friendly and welcoming host. He expressed wanting to make Dream Cream a permanent fixture in the community after it’s pop-up lease time expires and was very passionate about being able to help make someone’s dreams come true. I’m not sure how long they will be in the area, but if you happen to be in those neck of the woods, be sure to pay them a visit! And if you’re a dreamer, you can also apply to have your own flavor on their website.

Dream Cream is located at 539 Liberty Ave., Downtown Pittsburgh, PA. | dreamcreamicecream.com 

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In the Kitchen: Classic Pound Cake w/ Strawberry Glaze

There wasn’t much experimenting here,folks. I had a craving for pound cake (because I saw Paula Deen making it on TV last week) and I had about three baskets of ridiculously sweet strawberries that I needed to put to good use. I was originally going to make a strawberry pie,but after thinking about that fluffy,buttery cake, I knew what had to be done.

I stayed pretty true to Martha Stewart’s Classic Pound Cake Recipe, except I cut all the measurements in half as to only make one pound cake loaf. You can follow the recipe verbatim here– but if you’re feeling crazy, add the zest of a small lemon into the batter for a refreshing little bite.

For the strawberry glaze, I borrowed from a Strawberry Pie recipe I found via Browned-Eyed Baker and adapted it slightly. Continue reading

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In the Kitchen: Avocado Key Lime Pie

Avocados rank pretty darn high on my list of favorite foods. Being a California girl and all, we’ve got no shortage of them year-round. From giant Pinkertons and Zutanos to the delectably creamy Gwen and Haas varietals, our Golden State has got an avocado for every occasion. Simply put, this pie will blow your mind.

I’m not much of a baker (although to be fair, I haven’t tried much), so when I saw this no bake recipe for Avocado Pie on Evan Kleiman’s Good Food blog a few days ago, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I had a vague memory of having a similar dessert at a friend’s house growing up, but over the years, the notion of such a thing had fallen into another dimension. Thanks to the internet however, I found out a little more about this wonderful pie (although not enough to really know it’s origins).

Also called Jagger Pie, this recipe is painfully easy. I decided to put my own spin on it however so follow the recipe after the jump for a slightly sweet, slightly tart cream pie that will sure to please your friends are this summer’s picnics and barbecues.  Continue reading

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Filed under Desserts, fruits, fruits and vegetables, organic, other blogs, recipes

Dining: El Picoteo | Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Spanish tapas from El Picoteo were one of the things we splurged on multiple times while on our trip. Located within our amazing hotel (Hotel El Convento), El Picoteo serves up delicious tapas; some of which were just as good as I have had in Spain. We were able to try a good chunk of the menu in our handful of days on the island, and while there’s no wrong order here, I do have to recommend the following dishes which I thought were absolutely divine.

-grilled langostines (large and plump)
-oven-braised octopus (some of the best I have ever had)
-grilled cuttlefish (great texture; tender with a bit of crunch)
-pork ribs (meaty and tender like lechon asado)
-patatas bravas (because no tapas order is complete without them)
-pitchers of sangria (red or white, you can’t go wrong. Made fresh at the bar!)
-pina colada (my favorite from the ones I tried within San Juan and it doesn’t come from an industrial machine!)
-Tres leches cake (rich and dense)
-Leche Flan (thick, carmelized custard goodness)

Service is incredibly friendly and attentive. The bartenders are great at all times of the day, and they serve food until 11p.m., which is a plus for Old San Juan during week days when restaurants close a little earlier. The outdoor patio atmosphere at night cannot be beat.

El Picoteo is located inside the Hotel El Convento at 100 Calle de Cristo, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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Filed under Caribbean, Cocktails, Comfort Food, Desserts, Dinner, seafood, Spanish, tapas, Travel, Vacation

Frances Bakery & Coffee Sweetens the Deal

As much as I’d like to pretend that I have any sort of affiliation with Little Tokyo’s Frances Bakery and Coffee, unfortunately, my connection to them is nothing more than as a mere admirer. This local shop tucked within Honda Plaza proved to be a special surprise for my friend and I this past week; giving us sheer delight with their delectable confections. The assortment of cookies, cakes, and pastries was impressive for a smaller bakery. Classy looking items such as their chocolate-raspberry cake and beautiful tarts were showcased next to cream puffs and a colorful assortment of French macarons at shockingly affordable prices.

I had heard many great things about Frances and was eager to try treats from the downtown bakery that bears my name. The verdict? I am hooked! It was an unusually warm winter’s day and we were seeking a bit of sweetness after a delicious trip to the iconic Philippe’s, so I opted for their strawberry shortcake and my pal went with the aforementioned chocolate-raspberry. Our cakes were moist and delicious with just the right amount of sugar and a beautiful lightness. My shortcake was a delicate two-layer chiffon cake with whipped cream frosting and generous chunks of fresh strawberries. It was so good, I am ready for the summer to begin. For good measure, I snagged a green tea and a lavender macaron. Small in size, but bursting with flavor, these little ones still don’t hold a candle to ‘Lette and Bottega Louie, but they’re definitely worthy contenders.

Frances Bakery & Coffee is located at 404 East 2nd Street  Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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Filed under Bakeries, Desserts, local eateries

Straight Trippin’: Getting to know Julian, CA Pt. I

A Hidden Mountain Town

When people think of visiting San Diego County,images of surfers, beach bums, and naval ships come to mind; trips to the zoo or to the vintage midway in Mission Bay. However, deep in San Diego County’s back country lies an authentic Gold Rush-era Pioneer town. The historic town of Julian, located just one hour from San Diego, is a great SoCal vacation destination. I had been dreaming of having the time to make my way over here after a friend kept raving about their Dutch apple pies. After an enticing shout out in this month’s Los Angeles Magazine, we knew we had to make the trip.

Julian is small enough to explore in one day, but is packed with enough stuff to do to stay for a few days. Perfect for a little getaway or a family vacation, this place is quaint and is a great example of a nostalgic California mountain town. The town is most known for their apple pies and their Apple Harvest season (early September through mid-October,) but according to locals, it’s a wonderful place to visit all year round since they’ve got many festivals and events as well as snowfall in the winter.

The Great Pie Showdown

For the first part of this post, I’ve decided to do a side-by-side comparison of Julian’s most prized artisan good: apple pie. Many people get into heated debates about who makes the best apple pie in this town. Old-timers swear by Julian Cafe & Bakery which has been around since the early 70s, while most people in the county would argue that it’s really between Mom’s Pie House and the Julian Pie Company; both conveniently located on Main Street– mere blocks from one another.

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Filed under Desserts, Travel, Vacation