Saturday, March 30, 2013

Making Gelato at Home

Today, we decided to try to make Italian Gelato at home. I purchased a DeLonghi GM6000 Gelato machine, to see if I could replicate the fine gelatos of Italy.

Our first attempt was to to make the custard as described in the book Ciao Bella. Unfortunately, the attempt ended in failure, as our analog thermometer did not work properly and we overheated the mixture of milk, heavy cream and egg yolk. The whole mixture boiled and the egg yolk got fried!

To test out the machine (while waiting for the other recipe), I decided to try out another recipe from the DeLonghi cookbook for strawberry gelato. This particular recipe does not require any custard preparation (no egg yolks are involved). I just tried the gelato and it tasted too sweet. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of sugar and I think it would have been better with 1/4 cup.

Our second attempt at the Ciao Bella recipe for the Plain Base, also known as Gelato de Crema, finally succeeded. The gelato came out truly wonderful!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

We also wanted to try the Chocolate recipe from Ciao Bella. We purchased Valrhorna 70% chocolate. The chocolate gelato came out very well, but a bit too thick. Perhaps we used too much chocolate. The recipe called for 2.0 oz but we added 2.6 oz.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Today, we made Green Tea Gelato using Matcha Japanese  Green Tea. Alex really liked the flavor and ate all of it!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Today, we decided to make Hazelnut Gelato or Nocciola in Italian. Everyone loved the flavor and this has to be the best flavor so far. The only question is - what are the best Hazelnuts to use for this recipe? 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Today, Inna and I decided to try to make Pistachio and Stracciatella Gelatos. We prepared the plain base  the day before, so it was ready to go.

Our first attempt at Pistachio went badly, as we followed the recipe but it did not work. The Ciao Bella Cookbook's recipe called for pistachios to be roasted for 10-15 minutes at 350 deg F. However, we found that shelled pistachios were smoking after 8 minutes at this temperature. Inna tried roasting pistachios for a shorter, but pistachios still burned.

On her 3rd attempt, she lowered the oven temperature to 300 deg F and roasted pistachios for 5 minutes. Then, she lowered the oven temperature to 280 deg F and roasted the nuts for 5 more minutes. They still looked green (not brown) after roasting for 10 minutes. After grinding pistachios in the coffee grinder and combining it in a blender, the pistachio base looked light green. The final pistachio gelato turned out very well, but I was hoping for a more greener look. I am wondering whether the pistachios from Italy (Bronte) are any better.

The Stracciatella Gelato also turned out very well. Inna melted 60% bitter Ghiradelli chocolate and added it to the ice cream in a thin layer 5 minutes into the freezing process. The gelato turned out delicious!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Yosemite National Park

Friday, March 22, 2013

Today, we drove to Yosemite National Park, to see the beautiful park in the winter and to spend a few days enjoying the snow and the wonderful waterfalls. We started our drive to Tenaya Lodge, near the south entrance, at 6:00pm, but there was a lot of traffic on US-101 heading south. After 30 minutes of driving on US-101, I realized that I forgot to bring our skiing bag (with all the skiing clothes). We decided to continue our drive anyway,as there was a lot of traffic and we did not want to arrive so late. This turned our the right decision, as Badger Pass has only 28" of snow and we decided against skiing there.

When we arrived at around 9:20pm, the Sierra Restaurant at Tenaya Lodge was already closed for dinner.
A waiter at Jackalope's Bar and Grill allowed us to purchase some sandwiches in the nearby deli and we ended up eating our "dinner" at Jackalope's. It was surprising to us that a major restaurant would close at 9:00pm on a Friday night!

After eating our sandwiches, we ordered a nice, yummy ricotta cheesecake!

Valet car parking was free and our rooms were nice and clean. The indoor pool smelled like it had too much chlorine and we decided not to bother with it.

Inna wanted to try a massage at  Tenaya's Ascent Spa but the spa was all booked up for the weekend.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

When we woke up around 7:30am, we decided to get breakfast and then head to Yosemite Village. As we were in a hurry, we chose the buffet breakfast at the Sierra Restaurant. Sierra had two kinds of buffets available: healthy and non-healthy. The non-healthy version added bacon, eggs, and greasy foods to the fruits and pastries included in the healthy buffet. We both chose the healthy breakfast. The fruits were fresh and the breakfast was fine, but nothing special.

We grabbed our hiking boots and cameras and started our drive to the Yosemite Village. On the way there, we made a few stops to take photos.

Our first major stop was at Tunnel View, a car parking lot which has a beautiful overlook on all of Yosemite valley.

Our second stop was at Bridalveil Falls. Bridalveil waterfalls are quite tall and the short hike to the base of the waterfall runs parallel to a stream. The waterfalls generate a lot of mist and rain and we were quickly getting soaked, so we did not stick around too long.

We made a quick stop at the Swinging Bridges parking lot. There were a couple of ducks crossing the narrow stream.

There were nice views from the Swinging Bridge.

Right by the bride is a large meadow, where we walked around.

We parked our car and decided to get lunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel, before going on our major hike to the Upper Yosemite Fall.

In the main parking lot, we ran into a deer munching on the grass. He did not mind all the tourists.

We continued our walk to the Ahwahnee Hotel, where we decided to get lunch. Since the main dining room appeared closed, we had lunch at the Ahwahnee Bar. The food was delicious and prepared extremely fast.
Inna had the Chicken Waldorf Croissant and I had the Hot Pastrami and Swiss sandwich.

After lunch, we took the shuttle to the Lower Yosemite Fall. The walk to the fall was rather short.

The Lower Yosemite Fall was quite crowded with people. There was a lot of mist coming off, but not as much as at Bridalveil.

It was quite windy and cold here, and there was some mist coming down. We did not stay too long, as we decided to hike the Upper Yosemite trail, to Columbia Rock, so that we could get a nice scenic view of the Yosemite Valley below.

On the way there, we found a few rock climbers climbing and rappelling.

The Upper Yosemite Fall hike was fairly strenuous with over 60 switchbacks, before reaching Columbia Rock. It continues for over 3 miles of uphill, reaching the Upper Yosemite Falls.

Inna decided to take a rest stop.

After reaching Columbia Point, we enjoyed the spectacular views of Half-Dome and Yosemite valley, and then turned back.

Here is a view of Columbia Point.

The way back was much easier and faster. Although it took us 2.5 hours to get up to Columbia point, it tooks us only 1 hour to return.

Once we reached the bottom, we took the shuttle back to Yosemite Village, where we explored the Visitor Center and the Ansel Adams Gallery. In Ansel Adams Gallery, Inna found a great book on Yosemite photography - The Photographer's Guide to Yosemite by Michael Frye (which we purchased).
I got some great ideas of times and places to photograph, like the moon below.

We decided to head to the Ahwahnee Hotel and had our dinner at the Ahwahnee Bar.

The Ahwahnee main dining room was all booked up, even at 5:30pm! (but it looked empty!)

We hurried to finish our meal at the Bar, so that we could take some pre-sunset photos.

On the way back to Tenaya Lodge, we stopped by at a few spots to take photos of Yosemite.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

When we woke up around 8:00am, we decided to get breakfast and then head back to Yosemite Village for a hike to Mirror Lake. Unfortunately, when we arrived in our usual Sierra Restaurant for breakfast, it turned out to be closed. It turned out that Tenaya's Deli had a chemical refrigerant leak in the deli and Sierra Restaurant was closed.

We decided to drive to Yosemite Village and eat breakfast there. Once we got there, we ended up eating at Degnan's Deli (as all other restaurants were closed for the season). Degnan's had fairly horrible food and coffee (it reminded us of Yellowstone).

After breakfast, we took the Yosemite shuttle to stop 17 - Mirror Lake trail. This is a short 2 mile round-trip hike to Mirror Lake. It was an easy and picturesque hike with beautiful scenery all around.

The Mirror Lake trail is very flat and easy, with a paved road most of the way there. There is a stream that runs by the trail with logs and rocks buried.

Inna decided to try her hand at rock climbing.

She didn't succeed in climbing the large rock but gave it her best shot.

There were lots of fast moving streams and large boulders.

We finally got to the actual Mirror Lake.

The Lake certainly looks like a mirror.

After the hike, we returned to the Ahwahnee Hotel for lunch at the Ahwahnee Bar. The service was extremely fast and we ordered a Hot Pastrami and Swiss sandwich and a Chicken Waldorf Croissant. The food was well prepared and delicious (as usual).

After lunch, we drove back to Mariposa Grove, to look at the giant sequoia redwoods. The trees were quite massive.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Green Smoothies in San Francisco

Today, we decided to explore the various smoothie bars in San Francisco.

First, we stopped by at Sidewalk Juice on 21st Street. The place looks like a whole in the wall, but there was a long line to order juices and smoothies. I ordered a Green Energy Juice, which contains spinach, parsley, kale, celery, cucumber, apple, lemon, ginger. It tasted fine, but nothing special. The actual shop is pretty dirty and I noticed that no one washed their hands between making juice, taking money, etc. It did not look very sanitary.

Most of the juices or smoothies are sized at 12oz or 16oz. Sidewalk Juice has a pretty extensive menu, but the Top 10 Drinks are listed below:

Top 10 Drinks
1. Green Energy Juice spinach, parsley, kale, celery, cucumber, apple, lemon, ginger 6.00 / 7.00
2. Berries Valencia Smoothie blueberries, strawberries, banana, orange juice, marion berry sorbet and ice 4.95
3. Apple Beet Kombucha Juice one whole beet , one apple , kombucha 5.25 / 6.25
4. Mango Berry Smoothie apple juice, strawberries, blueberries, mangos, mango tangerine sorbet, ice 4.95
5. Mission Elixir Juice carrots, celery, apples, beet, ginger, parsley 5.00 / 6.006. Green Kombucha Juice bundles of spinach, kale, parsley, celery, ginger, kombucha 6.00 / 7.00
7. Kale Colada Smoothie fresh organic kale, coconut juice, pineapple, coconut shreds, pineapple sorbet, ice 4.95
8. JJ's Tropics Juice: apple, pear, pineapple, carrots 4.25 / 5.25
9. Almond Delight Smoothie almond butter, almond milk, banana, and ice 4.95
10. Apple Lemon Ginger Kombucha: 2 apples, half a lemon, 2 inches of ginger, kombucha 5.25 / 6.25

Inna ordered a Kale Colada Smoothie (fresh organic kale, coconut juice, pineapple, coconut shreds, pineapple sorbet, ice). She liked it.

From across the street, Sidewalk Juice looks ok.

Afterwards, we decided to check out another Smoothie Bar - Frapez on 18th Street. Frapez looks like a professionally developed smoothie bar. It was clean, well designed, and very upscale with bright, happy colors. 

However, it did not have the same number of customers (as Sidewalk Juice) and was half-empty most of the time. The prices at Frapez were a little bit higher, and perhaps this turned off some customers. Also, the sizes at Frapez were larger (16oz / 20oz) and more expensive.

We ordered a couple of drinks. First, we tried the "D-Stress" (lotus seeds, pineapple, Panax ginseng, spirulina, spinach, honey, soy milk, coconut milk) and then we ordered a "Venus" Smoothie (strawberry, blueberry, goji berry, kelp, cashews, sucanat, orange juice, almond milk). They were both good but nothing special (or better than the ones we make at home). I really didn't care for the almond milk in my smoothie.

After being full of smoothies, we decided to explore the neighborhood. She spotted a Philz Coffee and wanted to show me this specific coffee shop. We tried the Tesora and Ambrosia coffees and really liked it!

Afterwards, we stopped by at Tartine Bakery, as it was highly rated on Yelp and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Inna ordered the Croque Monsieur (open faced sandwich with b├ęchamel, gruyere, thyme and pepper, and topped with either smoked Niman Ranch ham or seasonal vegetable), which she really enjoyed. Tartine Bakery does make very good bread, but the other pastries and baked good did not look as presentable as the ones in Fleur de Cocoa bakery in Los Gatos.

Bi-Rite Creamery had a huge line for ice cream. Later on, we stopped by to try their ice cream. It was pretty good - about the same quality at Lappert's in Hawaii - but not as good as in Florence, Italy. I guess there is not much competition of quality ice cream in San Francisco.

Samovar Tea Lounge looked interesting and we should stop by to sample their teas sometime. They had lots of tea varieties.