Turtle Mountain Ice Cream: Thanks For Not Taking the Easy Way Out!

24 May

It happens all the time. You go to buy some item of food, or someone offers you something to eat, and the label says, “May contain traces of ___.”

You have no way of knowing if the company is saying that just to cover their behinds in case of a lawsuit when in fact there’s hardly any chance of cross-contamination, or if they really mean it and there is a large chance.

Some virtuous allergic foodies (like my little sister), stop there and walk away. Some dumber allergic foodies (me) then wage an internal battle. How lucky do I feel today? How much do I really want to risk it? How much do I really want those cookies? How close is the nearest hospital? (That last one is a joke. Kind of.)

The smart answer is never to risk it, we all know that. But with every other product you see these days carrying that warning label, it can get really frustrating.

Therefore, I was so excited to come across Turtle Mountain products. Instead of just slapping a “may contain” label on there, they go out of their way to make sure their products don’t contain any non-ingredient allergens.

Their package states, “Turtle Mountain applies strict quality control measures in an effort to prevent contamination by undeclared food allergens. To assure our preventive measures are effective, we sample test our products for the presence of dairy, gluten, peanut, soy, tree nut (almond, coconut, pecan, walnut) using state of the art testing methods.”

Their allergy page has a lengthy description of these state-of-the-art testing methods (check it out, it’s really impressive how thorough they are), which include validating the cleanliness of the processing line by collecting samples of the post-cleaning rinse water from each machine and belt, water which is then tested for allergens. “When the line is deemed to be free of allergens the product is produced,” the website says. The site also provides a comprehensive allergen chart for each product and each allergen.

As if that wasn’t enough, most of their ice creams are dairy-free—made from coconut milk instead of regular milk—so they have significantly less fat and calories than regular ice cream (½ cup of the vanilla bean ice cream has 150 calories and 8g of fat, while a ½ cup of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream has 230 calories and 14g of fat).

Their products range from milk and creamer to yogurt and “ice cream” (technically called “frozen dessert”), and they offer both coconut-based and soy-based versions, plus some gluten-free options. Check out the column on the left-hand side of this page for the full list of their products.

The flavor I tried, Vanilla Bean (coconut-based), tasted more like coconut gelato than vanilla ice cream. It was delicious, but very sweet—almost like it was missing a creamy finish and stayed with the same note throughout. When I left some in the bowl to melt a bit, it tasted exactly like a marshmallow.

Photo credit: TurtleMountain.com

I paired it with Frog Hollow pear sauce, though, and it made a huge difference. (I’m guessing even chocolate sauce would do the same, it just needs a complementary flavor.)

To pick some up for yourself, check out their store locator.

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On the Delights of Green Garlic (and BLTs on Brioche with Green Garlic Aioli)

23 May

Today I’m going to take a brief interlude from restaurant reviews to tell you about my new favorite ingredient—green garlic.

For those who have yet to discover its wonders, green garlic is essentially young garlic. When garlic plants grow, the bottom white bulb splits off into cloves and becomes what we know as traditional garlic, while the top grows into these long, scallion-like green stalks called scapes (which also have their own culinary merit). Green garlic is uprooted before it matures, before the bottom splits off into cloves. It looks like this:

Photo credit: SFGate.com

Green garlic has this really wonderful mild garlic flavor, which gives dishes a great depth but without the potency of mature garlic (I still love you, though, garlic!). You can even slice up a little bit and scatter it on a slice of ciabatta bread with butter and a pinch of sea salt, that’s how mild it is.

I discovered green garlic for the first time when trying out a CSA, and fell in love. It’s great for flavoring oil before you sauté vegetables, scattering on a sandwich with prosciutto and tomato, or in the following amazing (and super easy, and super nut-free!) recipe…

[Note: It’s nearing the end of green garlic season (this may even be the last week) so if you want to give it a try, hurry!]

For green garlic storage and selection tips, check out this article from The San Francisco Chronicle.

BLTs on Brioche with Green Garlic Aioli

Courtesy of the August 2006 issue of Bon Appétit magazine

Photo credit: Epicurious.com

Makes 6 sandwiches

Aioli

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green garlic or 1 regular garlic clove, blanched
  • 1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel or coarse kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise, divided [NOTE: This was way too much mayo for me. I would use your discretion about how much you want to add, observing the thickness of the aioli as you make it]
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Sandwiches

  • 2 (3-ounce) packages thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon; about 30 slices)
  • 12 (1/2-inch-thick) slices brioche or egg bread, lightly toasted
  • 1 large bunch mizuna or arugula, torn into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds

For aioli: Blend olive oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel in processor until garlic is minced. Add 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and blend well. Transfer to small bowl; whisk in remaining mayonnaise and lemon juice. Can be made 1 day ahead—cover and then chill.

For sandwiches: Preheat oven to 450°F. Arrange pancetta slices in single layer on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Place toast on work surface. Spread with aioli. Divide mizuna among 6 toast slices; top with tomatoes, then pancetta, dividing equally. Top with remaining 6 toast slices, aioli side down. Cut each sandwich in half and serve.

H/T to Saveur.com and Love & Olive Oil

Darwin Café: Tiny Spot, Big Flavors

21 May

If you don’t work in SOMA (and you have a regular day job elsewhere), it’s nearly impossible to try the great restaurants the neighborhood has to offer, because most are only open for weekday lunch. One exception is Darwin Café, a great spot tucked in an alley off of Bryant St. (near South Park), whose creative menu and great flavors definitely warrant a dinner visit.

I stopped in at 6pm on a Wednesday for a quick bite, and the cozy, clean and well-decorated café was empty except for 2 people enjoying a cheese plate at the bar. The menu, which changes daily and for each meal, was written on an almost floor-to-ceiling-length piece of paper hanging on the wall.

Many of the options looked delicious—a salad of kale, radicchio, garlic, lemon, parmesan, prosciutto and aged balsamic, for example, or pork rillettes made with slow-cooked pork shoulder, Dijon grilled sourdough and house-made pickles—but I went for the Bristol Bay scallop ceviche with avocado, lime, cilantro, sweet onion, radish and tortilla chips.

When I ordered, she asked me, “bread, olive oil, olives?” and, guessing I was only supposed to pick one or two of the above but choosing to disregard that, I said, “yes.”

When I asked about nuts, they said that nothing on the menu that night (including my dish) had nuts, but that it was not a completely nut-free kitchen. I asked if they could just clean the knives and cutting boards and anything that might have touched nuts, and they happily agreed. I got the feeling it was more of a liability response than an honest concern about cross-contamination, since they weren’t preparing anything with nuts that night, but I appreciated the honesty. (Those with an extremely sensitive anaphylaxis might want to avoid taking the chance, or at least call ahead to see if the menu that day has nuts (or whatever you’re allergic to) so you can decide beforehand if it’s worth going.) I didn’t experience any allergic or cross-contamination symptoms afterward.

Very soon after ordering, they gave me a four-piece hunk of Acme sourdough bread, a dipping bowl of wonderful olive oil (really fresh, crisp and bright, reminded me of Frog Hollow olive oil—get some if you haven’t had it yet!), and a bowl of four or five green olives. As it was just me dining, it was more of a side dish than a starter, but you don’t hear me complaining.

The ceviche arrived in less than 10 minutes after I ordered, and was delicious. The flavors were bright and bold—it tasted like a really fresh, deconstructed guacamole, with the creamy avocados and tangy lime contrasting nicely and the radishes adding some great texture. The tortilla chips seemed to be just straight-up Tostitos, which was fine with me because the saltiness balanced perfectly with the rest of the flavors. My only complaint would be the scallops—since they were raw (which I knew I was getting, it being ceviche and all), they were pretty bland and didn’t really add much to the meal, in either texture or flavor. They weren’t off-putting in any way, they just kind of disappeared into the dish. Maybe another fish would have been a more interesting choice.

With the ceviche, the heaping (free) appetizer and a glass of Chardonnay, my bill was just $19—most of the dishes seemed to be between $8 and $10, which is extremely affordable but somewhat deceiving because the dishes are relatively small (I’ve sometimes seen Darwin categorized as “small plates”-style dining). But when you add in the bread and olives, I left perfectly satisfied.

Definitely recommended for non-allergics, and also for allergics but with the caveats mentioned above.

Note: I’ve been told they are known for their great lunch, so if you do work in SOMA and haven’t tried it yet, head on over! Apparently they even have a deli slicer to make each sandwich super fresh. However, the lunch rush may not be a great place to get a server’s undivided attention about an allergy, so take that into consideration.

RATINGS

  • Food: 8
  • Presentation: 6.5
  • Menu: 8
  • Service: 9
  • Ambiance: 7
  • Allergy-friendliness: 7
  • Cost: $

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

THE DEETS

212 Ritch St (at Bryant)
San Francisco, CA 94107
415-800-8668

Also see this review from UrbanDaddy

Polker’s Gourmet Burgers: Good burgers, great go-to neighborhood spot

16 May

Courtesy of Yelp user A. C.

There’s nothing like a great burger. (Sorry, vegetarians…) Piled high with great toppings, with meat that’s so juicy it threatens to make the bottom bun soggy after the first bite, that’s able to hold its own distinct flavor no matter how many toppings it’s up against… you know it when you taste it.

Polker’s Gourmet Burgers doesn’t have show-stoppingly amazing burgers (nor are their topping options dazzling enough to call it “gourmet”), but their burgers are definitely not a waste of calories.

After Bay to Breakers yesterday, I was in need of a hearty meal, so I grabbed my friend Maureen and we stopped into Polker’s. It may be the first time I’ve seen it without a wait, so we were able to grab a booth by the window and observe all the drunken Bay to Breakers survivors in their costumed finest.

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Welcome to The Allergic Foodie!

16 May

My name is Jenna, and I love food.

Let’s be clear: I really, really love food. I love cooking it, eating it, writing about it, thinking about it, dreaming about it, learning new things about it… you get the point.

Consequently, I really hate my food allergy. I have an anaphylaxis to all nuts, which means even one rogue sliver of a nut could kill me. What’s a devoted foodie to do?

I started this blog because I believe having serious food allergies and having a wonderful, adventurous food life do not have to be mutually exclusive. This blog is for all the food-lovers out there that refuse to be prisoners to their food allergies (yet still understand the importance of eating responsibly).

My restaurant reviews are not entirely allergy-centric (so non-allergics are just as welcome, you lucky ducks), but there is a component of the rating system that takes into account allergy-friendliness. The rating system is as follows (each rating ranges from 1 to 10, 10 being the highest score possible):

  • Food: overall deliciousness
  • Presentation: composition and design of the dishes
  • Menu: diversity and appeal of menu
  • Service: attentiveness and friendliness of service
  • Ambiance: restaurant decor and design
  • Allergy-friendliness: how attentive, knowledgeable, accommodating and transparent the staff was about the allergy; presence of any allergy incidents (cross-contamination, allergic reaction)
  • Cost: $ is really cheap, $$ is moderate, $$$ is pretty expensive, and $$$$ is you better have just won the lottery or made CEO.

Since I’m based in San Francisco, most of my reviews will be centered on the Bay Area. But I left my heart back in Boston where I was born and raised, so you may see some Boston reviews in there as well, joined by any of my other travel destinations.

I will also post some of my favorite recipes, as well as reviews of allergy-friendly products (when I can find them!).

If you have any suggestions for restaurants to review, recipes to publish, products to investigate, or any other comments, suggestions or feedback at all, I’d love to hear from you!

Happy (and safe) eating!

~Jenna

Nothing like a quick oyster break at an early morning farmers' market!