Tag Archives: gelato

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 As far back as I can remember, every Christmas and Valentine's Day, my mother would buy Brach's Villa Cherries as a gift for me. Villa Cherries were different from the other (inferior) chocolate covered cherries--they had a sugar cream coating around the cherry as well as a super sweet liquid center. Other brands only had liquid filling and the whole experience was overall disappointing in comparison. See, eating a Villa Cherry was a process. I'd bite off part of one end and suck out the liquid. Then I'd lick the chocolate bottom until the inside was exposed. Next I'd scoop out the cherry and slurp off the cream coating. Then I'd eat the cherry. And finally eat the chocolate shell. I had to savor every bit of it because I had to make that box of cherries last as long as possible. Once they were gone, that was it until the next holiday season.

But they were gone for good in 2003. This website not only tells the short and sad story of their end, but includes a large number of comments supporting my assertion that the Brach's Villa Cherry was the best chocolate covered cherry available. No other cherry cordial can compare.

As a tribute, I have created this gelato. The vanilla is really important in the recreation of the Villa Cherry taste. This is a VERY sweet gelato. And, of course, it's not a true gelato because it's made in an ice cream maker (real gelato has less air). It's also not quite as creamy because the crushed cherries contribute quite a bit of liquid. But it's still very good.

First things first: you have to create (unflavored) base. I really like this gelato base from Allrecipes.com. The only variations I have are that I used half and half (because that's what I had on hand, though heavy cream will yield a richer gelato) and that instead of straining the base, I hit it with the stick blender to ensure a smooth consistency. Once you have the base, you can add the ingredients and freeze!
 

Villa Cherries Gelato
Gelato base
2T vanilla extract
1 1/2c chopped maraschino cherries
2T grenadine
1/3 cup chopped chocolate chips (milk chocolate) or shaved chocolate

Once you have created the base, let it cool in the refrigerator for several hours (until cold). When you're ready to make the gelato, stir in the vanilla, cherries and grenadine. Pour the mix into your ice cream maker and follow the directions for making ice cream. Stir in the chocolate before it completely freezes (depending on your ice cream maker, add the chocolate halfway through mixing or after mixing and before you put it in the freezer for the final freeze).

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By now you may have figured out that I put a lot of work into planning this vacation. Eating is one of my favorite things to do and I am not one to take chances of missing out on something great. So our Saturday plans were to hit the Las Vegas Strip, home to an extensive collection of restaurants by a dizzying number of world-renowned chefs.

We hit the strip early, parking at New York New York toward the southern end of the strip. After a ride on the coaster (for the SO), we hit the street and went toward the Bellagio for a little snack--gelato. I had authentic gelato at Grom in NYC, but to be honest, it didn't really live up to the gelato I remembered having at the Bellagio. It's Americanized a bit--a little sweeter and a little creamier and the flavors are more catered to American tastes (pistachio, cookies and cream, etc). So while not authentic, I will say that it's is the best American gelato there is. It beats the pants off any standard ice cream and even Luv-It's frozen custard. We got a combo of dulce de leche and tiramisu. It is so unbelievably think and creamy. And did I get a picture? No, of course not. Eyes on the prize and all that, I guess. Bellagio gelato: thumbs up.

We finished up our gelato while walking through the lobby and gardens at Bellagio (the SO had never seen those beautiful Chihuly flowers) and then headed over to Caesar's Palace for lunch. There are a lot of restaurants in the Forum Shops, but I steered us toward Spago. We initially thought we'd split a pizza, but the server suggested it might be too small, so we got two (we could have easily split the pizza, but he didn't know we'd just had gelato of course). I ordered a margherita pizza and the SO ordered a portobella and carmelized onion pizza. The pizzas are authentic Neapolitan style and are so fantastically delicious. Though I generally prefer New York style pizza, I will say that the pizza at Spago is really how pizza was really meant to be. A sturdy, but not too thick crust, fresh mozzarella and other fresh and vibrant ingredients make these pies well worth the fifteen or so dollars each that they cost. And, hey we were on vacation so we opted to get some beer with our pizza. That was the only disappointment at Spago. I suppose that due to some distribution issues or back-kitchen dealing, the only Italian beer they had was Moretti (owned by Heineken). I much prefer Peroni and though they should be similar, I found that Moretti pretty much just tasted like Heineken. Which is not the taste I wanted with my amazing authentic Italian pizza. Regardless, Spago: thumbs up (Moretti: thumbs down).

After walking off a few of the calories we consumed and working up an appetite for dinner, we left the strip to get cleaned up for the night's big event: dinner at B&B Ristorante in the Venetian (better link here). B&B is Mario Batali's small restaurant with partner Joseph Bastianich. I say small because by Las Vegas standards, it really is. It has a very intimate and boutique feel about it. Though it's rather open, so it's not very quiet. And by "intimate," I don't mean romantic--I mean the tables are crammed in so that servers and staff have to turn sideways to walk between them. But that only detracted from the experience a tiny bit. My hosts in Las Vegas were actually surprised by my choice considering that the B&B menu features quite a few odd (by American standards) critter bits, such as oxtail, lamb's brain, and sweetbreads. But I didn't feel a bit limited in my choices at all.

The recommended way to eat at B&B is via a tasting menu or to start with an appetizer (antipasti), then have a pasta dish (primi), then an entree (secondi) and then a cheese or dessert. Frankly, I don't know how anyone could eat that much food and I knew better than to try. Our dinner was started with a bruschetta (compliments of the chef) with a chickpea topping. Next, we split the appetizer of goat cheese truffles. There were three truffles--one rolled in poppy seeds, one rolled in (I think) paprika or curry powder and one rolled in the wild fennel pollen. The flavor combinations were excellent, but I would say that the appetizer was actually a bit larger than it really needed to be. I rarely leave cheese on a plate, but I'd pretty much had my fill of it just eating less than half of what was available. This appetizer could have easily been split by four people.

Instead of going for an entree, we decided to have pasta and save room for dessert. I chose the sweet potato lune (a moon-shaped ravioli) with sage an amaretti. The ravioli was very delicate in taste and served with an equally delicate and light sauce over which and amaretto cookie had been shaved (in the style of grated Parmigiano Reggiano) which gave it a hint of sweetness. It was divine. The flavors stood out yet blended perfectly. And the sommeliere recommended a fine Pinot Grigio to complement my dinner (side note: The by-the-glass serving is quite generous and they bring it to your table in a small carafe so as not to overfill your glass--a very nice touch).

And now, for dessert...after reading Claudia's recollection of her dessert at Otto, I have to say that I was overly excited and giddy and probably too eager to get through my meal and on to the big show. The SO ordered the cannoli, so I had to go for something different. I considered the panna cotta but it had a shot of espresso in it and that combined with the sugar would have had me up all night long. I also considered the bomboloni, but on the server's recommendation, I chose the ciccolato. First off, I will say that the cannoli was (of course) the best I'd ever had and not even playing in the same league or even game as the stuff you get here locally. I'm certain that it was the quality of the ricotta that really set it apart. Next I will say that if you like bread pudding, you will most certainly like the ciccolato. I don't like bread pudding. I don't like bourbon. So I made a huge mistake in ordering this dessert. The SO enjoyed it immensely, but I felt that the "bourbon caramel" was too heavy paired with such a heavy dessert--so much so that it overpowered bites of the vanilla bean gelato as well (and I felt that there was just too much of it served with the dessert). It was too bourbon-y and sweet at the same time. In retrospect, I should have just ordered the bomboloni and let the SO enjoy two desserts, but I was in a luné haze, I suppose. B&B Ristorante: thumbs up (though avoid the ciccolato unless you really like bourbon).

Next up: Laguna Beach, California.