Leprechaun Dreamcycle (Quasi-Review)

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https://twitter.com/leprechaun69
http://www.leprechaunsdreamcycle.com/

Long long ago, in days past when food trucks only just started the ‘Lunch by the River’ phenomenon in St Paul, I recall coming across a little popsicle cart that would hang out by the crowds on hot days. The side was festooned with posters of products, reminiscent of a classic ice cream truck with our old favorite, Fudgesicles and Rocket Ships and the like, just in smaller form. Of course I ignored it, needing to save my money and not even sure if it qualified as a ‘must hit’ business, purely using pre-made consumer frozen goods as opposed to homemade specialty; as far as I was concerned, was it no different than the regular musical ice cream truck, which does not usually qualify for my writings.

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Years later and I start seeing pictures for Leprechaun Dreamcycle on Twitter and Facebook, and curiosity got the better of me for what could be a unique business. The cart has been notably updated; well, actually added-on, getting a second now festooned with colorful decoration, making their own cut-and-paste displays for menu items and prices inside the rainbow of unicorns and children’s fantasy that is the bike, cart, and umbrella. Of course the older cart is still in use, the owner’s son now taking responsibility and setting out to dispense frozen treats on his own time in the Twin Cities while father, Wally ‘O’Wanka,’ stands stout in his old timey white suit no matter the weather, red hair and moustache twirling in the breeze.

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The ice cream and pops are still the classics, from Blue Bunny ice cream sandwiches (I got the ‘birthday cake’ one, gotta love that sugar/sprinkle/frosting-extract flavor! And an ice cream that practically felt and tasted like marshmallows) to the classic Orange Dreamsicle. Though the owner has let slip that a friend of his is currently in the works of making 3 particular items JUST for them; could this friend perhaps be from Frio Frio? Who knows.

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Setting up at local events and St Paul parks, Leprechaun is truly set up for the children in all of us, but really excels with children in general. Did you know you get a free Balloon Animal with every purchase? I got a Llama (I think, it might be an Alpacca… I’ve named him George, do not ask me why)! They even have Coloring Books, which Wally makes himself featuring local St Paul parks and other things. A little guitar sits in the basket waiting to be played, and I won’t begin to try and imagine what else he has up those long sleeves, or hidden in that colorful contraption of his, ready and waiting to have a good time with. If there’s EVER a choice of street vendors to visit with the kids for a quick treat, then make it this one which specializes on the experience by leaps and bounds compared to others.

And isn’t that just the most adorable hitch trailer used to haul around this cart to their various frequent and changing locations?

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                 Food: 9 – Much props to the texture, the treats kept at the ideal so they aren’t super-cold and firm, giving simply with pressure from the lips while holding shape. Gotta admit, the flavor and sugars may all be factory-made and confected, but is there not that childhood nostalgia from these that we still secretly love? It’ll never be AS good as properly made, quality, natural flavors, but we can hold some appreciation for it. Really though, this is one of, if not THE, only carts practically made for the MUCH younger demographics, and we all know how they feel about dreamsicles, fugesicles, ice cream sandwiches, and all those good things.

Holdability: 10 – Unless you wait a while, not even melty and sticky… maybe for the kids.

Price: 9 – Mostly $3 and $3.50, with a $4 item and the dreamsicle at $2.50, or one can go even lower and get the rocket ship for $1.50

Speed: 10

Toe: 10 – I mean for the love of god look at it! And you get a balloon animal and coloring book! Need I explain more?

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Had to get at least one professional-looking picture in here! A shame I didn’t take it

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Frio Frio

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https://www.facebook.com/thebisonbutler/
https://twitter.com/friofriomn
Main Location: Minneapolis/Nordeast, Events

I’m at Open Streets Northeast last Sunday, a good occasion to get out and have a bit of fun and exploration on a day that turned out much less cloudy and rainy as forecasted, get some walking and sweating in, see some sights, stop off for a beer or snack occasionally, and near the end I turn a corner and see… god dammit, another frozen treat cart that I have to review. I mean there’s enough food trucks I need to get to already, why can’t these people just slow down and let me write!? Oh well, whatever, since it’s just the one small guy I can probably just do a quasi review out of them…

Well that idea has been shot to hell because I love these guys. I’m gonna just go right out and say it from the start, Frio Frio I believe is the best cold treat truck in the Twin Cities right now. I’m sorry Geno’s, Cranky’s, and Fro Yo, but these guys are just plain cool (unintended badum-ching), unique, delicious, and their product fits their setup perfectly (unlike a certain ice cream cart with a not-so-smooth product due to the non-traditional ‘refrigeration’).

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But here’s the deal. Taking note from similarly traditional frozen treats found on the street in Mexico, Frio Frio makes specialty popsicles out of (mostly) natural ingredients with delicious twisted flavor combos, both contemporary and sort of classic Latin-inspired. These include, but aren’t limited to, Avocado-Lime, Grapefruit-Carrot, Strawberry-Balsamic-Basil, Kiwi-Apple, and ‘Piñata’ (oh I’ll tell you about this later, be patient). Great treats for kids and adults alike, though I say stick to the adults cuz which kid is really going to appreciate anything more or less so long as it’s cold and has sugar? But I’m not going to try thinking of anything else to lengthen this intro any more, I just wanna dive right into the scoring!

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By the way, I ended up grabbing some popsicle pictures from their Facebook page because you NEED to see what the others look like.

Food: 10

                It was a bit tricky picking, but something told me I had to try the Avocado-Lime, really get that proper Mexican inspiration, and the Piñata. They were both so good, firm but not hard or particularly icy, they each licked up easy, I mean the texture was just ideal. The avocado was fantastic, actually making it smooth and creamy, almost between regular popsicles and those gelato ‘popsicles’ we see sometimes. And of course the flavor came out great (if you haven’t had avocado desserts yet, you need to try them, it actually works really well when held back by other ingredients; almost custardy with its richness, and with a smooth, round green flavor) and was balanced nicely with the lime.
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Now, the Piñata… Lemon and Coconut Water popsicle suspended with, and I’m not sh*^@ing you, Sprinkles and Gummy Bears. And it is GOOD. I swear, I never thought I’d love sprinkles and gummy bears so much, but these are sort of the perfect flavors to bring them out in, without just tasting like extra pieces of artificially flavored sugar. Not to mention you get some fun, childhood-like things to chew as you go through it. I can only imagine how tasty the other popsicles are.

Holdability: 10

                 What can I say, you walk down a hot street, licking and munching a delicious popsicle in one hand, the fingers of only one hand getting a little sticky from the bit that’s melting off the popsicle, but you don’t care, it’s not impeding you at all and it reminds you of summers who knows how long ago.
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Price: 10

                  It’s only $3 each, I mean come on! And they each certainly have a good amount to them, and flavor to make every dollar worth it.

Speed: 10

 Reach in the box, grab the popsicle, hand it to you, and off ya go (if you so desire to leave immediately).
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The TOE: 10

                  It just feels like the whole cart nails it for me; the box has a cool design, the colorful theme runs throughout (even on t-shirts), name is catchy and actually makes sense, personality is distinctly bright and bubbly, the product is simple but unique and delicious, and it actually has a tie-in to traditional street food elsewhere. They’ve totally got that ‘Adult Popsicle Cart’ feeling to it that brings you back just enough to when you were younger, slurping on a frozen lolly during a heatwave; I swear I half expected I would find that classic messy smear of popsicle on my lips and tongue when next I saw a mirror. And hey, if they have ME this excited and raving about it, they must be doing SOMETHING right. I mean heck, all their popsicles feel like a ‘Toe Ring’ to me (maybe not the kiwi-apple, but that’s me).

Service: +1.5

                Because I don’t think it’s fair for Potter’s Pasties to be the only truck ever to go over 50 points, and because there IS that really social, easy talkative feeling when you go there, likely an increased openness for random chat when the people shelling stuff out aren’t behind a window and above your head. Besides, the two shelling this stuff out are nice, hospital, and have fun personality, like a lot of people in the mobile vending service biz; just got to see it more today and here.

Tally: 51.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Frio Frio offers a product that is perfectly ideal to add on the tail end of any food truck luncheon day or just as a quick indulgent treat whenever one gets the chance. Though I’m not one for feeding kids really good products, it offers an actual strong possibility for anyone to go and find SOMETHING that fits their tastes and desires for cheap. And as for which ones to get, you can’t go wrong with anything I don’t think, but if I HAD to narrow down the ‘must-haves,’ at least for your first visit, I would definitely still go with my own choices of Avocado-Lime and Piñata. They’re both highly unique, indicative of the original influence, and come on they’re delicious.

Cranky’s Ice Cream + Geno’s Gelato (Dual Review!)

http://crankysicecream.com/
https://twitter.com/crankysicecream
http://www.genosgelato.com/
https://twitter.com/genosgelato
Main Location: Events/Markets, Uptown Mpls Streets, Etc

Summer is never complete without multiple ice cream stops, I should know; I basically try to hit all the good ones when I get the chance (when most of your meals are rather boring, or you’re spending much of your time controlling the diet and running on a treadmill, what can I say? You just end up craving sundaes, or whatever ice cream you can find covered in hot chocolate and crunchy things). And this year gave me the opportunity and personal drive to hit our main two mobile frozen-dairy businesses, both of which popped up last year and focus on hand-crafted, smaller batch products made with good local ingredients when they can find them. But instead of tackling separately (and having to debate whether they should be full or quasi reviews), I decided on something new, fun, and different! Which is why, for the first time, I’m writing a DUAL review on our two belters of churned sugar-milk ecstasy! Let’s see how it goes!

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Having opened in September of last year, Cranky’s Ice Cream has been setting up their cart at various markets, street fairs, and other events in the Twin Cities. Focusing purely on the classic American-style Ice Cream, these are the true Sugar+Cream (or some mix of milk and cream) bases that have been churned in some of our favorite classic soda shops for decades. No eggs here. Flavors themselves are also kept rather traditional, finding things like Mint Chocolate Chip, Chocolate, Coffee, Cookies n Cream, etc, while their more ‘fun’ and ‘experimental’ offerings still keep in line with these base desires. Doughnut, Chocolate-Orange, XXX Chocolate (no clue, but I want), Peanut Butter n Jelly, ‘Whiskey Sour,’ even one made with Porter. They also have tried a couple Strawberry things with Margarita and Jalapeno. These can all be placed in a basket, cone, or even a pint glass!? (gotta love that merchandise)

I was lucky enough, after quite a few disappointing misses, to hit Geno’s Gelato on their 1-year Anniversary! How awesome is that? Contrary to Cranky, these guys belt out pure Italian treats, offering churned Ices (basically Sorbetto), proper Gelato (a mix of Milk, Eggs, and Sugar), and apparently even Cannoli, though I haven’t heard about that offered on the cart until now. Produced from ages of the Gioielli family’s traditions and love for food and brought to life by chef Bethany Nelson’s creations, family member Brian takes these chilled delicacies and carts them all over the Uptown area on his bike-cart. Finding them can be an adventure, or one can simply give them a call/message and have Brian ‘deliver’ himself to a particular location in the area for your needs!

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Flavors are also rather changing, with classic and some twisted mixes based on the style. Some of the ‘ices’ can include Lemon, Mojito, Margarita, Strawberry-Lemon or, most popular, Mango Mint. Whereas the gelato consists of traditional Vanilla, Amarena, Nutella (okay not ‘classic,’ but simple), and Pistachio. These bases can then be seen highlighted with swirls of Salted Caramel, Cherries, or found as offerings like Blueberry Basil, Peanut Butter Pretzel, and Strawberry Champagne. All of it pre-scooped and handed out in their own pretty, attractive packages.

Food: 8/6

Making frozen custard without eggs (and I mean naturally, no damn chemical stabilizers and powders to cover up your mistakes you lazy corporate bastards!) can be a challenge, but when done right can lead to that delightfully creamy, simply slippery and sweet delight from our childhood. For the most part, Cranky’s does it well, creating frozen spoonables that I find little complaint in taking down; the texture and consistency isn’t able to get to that fully sinful height which the best custards can get to (I think it’s a roundness thing, not to mention that extra flavor depth that eggs and dairy can create), but good for the style.

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I grabbed the sampler, which for the day included Mint-Chocolate-Chip, Chocolate-Orange, they’re sorta-famous Doughnut, and Porter. The first two tasted just like one expects them to; the doughnut was rather awesome, it got the flavor and those little pieces of that classic cakey ballpark doughnut (the perfect kind for their style and cream flavors), I appreciated the fact that, mixed in, one could tell the doughnut improved the texture of the cream (sort of like those cake batter ice creams from you-know-who). The Porter, on the other hand… well, I love the idea, and it’s cool how they do it. They actually make their own porter beer base; dark malts, cooked with water for an hour or so along with hops, only not fermented into the beer and I’m pretty sure kept at its more concentrated, very sweet and malty-flavorful stage. This is then added to the ice cream, which makes it taste AWESOME, just like a simple malty porter, mission accomplished… until we talk about the texture. Which is icy. Because they added a liquid and didn’t find a way to get it back to a balance that would have left it churning smooth again; perhaps if they got it even MORE concentrated and syrupy to add beforehand. Oh well, it’s a single low point, the rest is nice.

Geno’s Gelatos, on the other hand… were all icy. I only got the chance to try two of their creations, both gelatos, but the structure of each ended up a little firm, sort of icy, not smooth at all. I should say though the flavor was AMAZING; I would imagine their Italian Ices are fantastic, fruity, and something where I don’t mind this not-so-smooth texture. We had the Blueberry-Basil and Cherry-Amaretto, the fruit of which is mixed in at the end (I think the cherries were dried) as opposed to pureed to flavor the cream like I thought it might have been. And I’m glad for this, really being able to get each of the berries, I think the cherries were dried, and the amaretto and basil flavors infused into the custard came out so nicely.

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But I still find disappointment when left with a custard known for its soft, fluffy texture come out so icy. And I know why it’s like this, ultimately a bad combination of unfavorable factors. Firstly, true gelato (which I know this is) is, as mentioned, a mix of egg, milk, and sugar, often with little to no cream. Even with lots of egg yolks, this can leave for a thinner custard, getting that ideal more difficult; then, Geno’s decided that, instead of keeping these in big buckets to scoop for service, they pre-scooped and transferred individual servings to small, portable containers for quick service. This is cute and fun, a cool little idea, but the time it had to spend out of the freezer to do this, even if brief, often makes ice cream icier (won’t go into detail why). Finally, these are kept in a simple box stuffed with ice to keep frozen as opposed to a temperature-controlled bin, which is VERY important to gelato shops, as true gelato is actually kept at just a little bit warmer than the ice cream we’re used to. This is a factor which helps to keep this milky custard smooth, whereas an even colder cart like this would just firm it up even further.

… sorry, I had to get that rant off my chest, been nagging at me that I couldn’t bitch out all the technical stuff (I may not be able to make the best ice cream at home, but I still know the important stuff about it!).

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Holdability: 9.5/9

Cranky’s Ice cream can come in a basket, or as I mentioned a pint glass, needing a spoon but super-easy to walk around with, and an absolute requirement when getting a sampler (the only way to do it in my opinion). But you CAN get the cone… not the fun cookie or waffles one, that wafer thingy, bleh… but instant one-handed eating, perhaps with some dripping depending on temperature and how long you take to eat it, somewhat likely. So advantage there.

Whereas Geno’s has everything in its own cute, adorable little to-go container for awesome fast portability to eat there, elsewhere, or on the go. Can’t go one-handed with it really, but extra points for its own tight, condensed little bowl which gives no mess whatsoever.

20150517_133532Price: 10/10

$4 for your ice cream of choice, or one can get a full sampling of all four flavors they have on that day for just $6, prices always come reasonable and one can get a decent deal for more. (can also spend $10 for a sampler AND logo-studded pint glass)

Geno’s differs with what one gets, $4 for each pack of gelato, $3 for an Italian ice, and $2 for a cannoli (if they have any). I feel like you’re getting a little less product with them, but the price option range dips even lower so money score rates about the same in my opinion.

Speed: 9.5/10

One needs only the minimal time to scoop the ice cream at Cranky’s, but the complete pre-packaged, personal containers for Geno’s truly makes this the best grab-and-go frozen custard out there.

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The TOE: 7/8.5

Ice cream always makes for an attractive and fun experience whenever you go somewhere, especially when it’s pedaled by such bright personalities as these. The whole concept of Geno’s, attached on a bike and reveling in the area and culture that is Uptown, really stands out and hits strongly, especially when one finally finds and flags them down off the street; though the act of hunting them down can at times be a bit of a struggle. Though the little personal packages are also a fun addition to this ‘atmosphere’ and identity, I do almost wish that I could see them scooping the gelato from some big tubs (especially since it’d probably be better for the gelato’s texture vs the container transference and other things). As for the one that DOES do it, a nice set up as well, not quite as colorful, seemingly closer to that older-school basic ice-cream-shop vibe, which has that nice appeal to it. Though I wish they either went more retro and ‘soda-shoppy’ or just refined and amped up their presentation/selection some more, as part of it feels just a tad ‘lacking,’ like they’re right in the middle between the rather basic/boring places that sell ice cream and the modern shops we often so love today (Izzy’s, Sebastian Joe’s, etc). Some sort of extra push towards retro or today’s modern would round things out perfectly; perhaps some options for toppings?

Tally: 44+43.5/50

Final Thoughts

20150517_133233Cranky’s brings a nice stop during events for those looking for something reminiscent of the ice cream we enjoyed growing up on, and is definitely one of those great places where one doesn’t have to settle on just ONE flavor. Though if you’re inclined towards that direction, and don’t just go towards the classics (I won’t judge, but I still think it’s more fun to have a flavor you haven’t likely already tasted 50 times before in your life), there are some notes to keep in mind. Anything flavored with something already thick/starchy/custardy, like Chocolate, Peanut Butter, or just involve a simple mix-in, and won’t affect the structure in any way except, perchance, to make it SMOOTHER, go for. The Doughnut is amazing for this, and I really enjoyed their Chocolate-Orange (anything chocolate or peanut butter is good I’d imagine). Avoid anything that will involve the addition of some other liquid, such as the Porter, Whiskey-Sour, and perhaps those Strawberries; they sadly don’t adjust it back too well.

Geno’s comes through as the perfect quick grab-and-go frozen treat, an ideal stop for street fairs with multiple food stops, especially for the price conscious. As one can assume by my reaction earlier, skip the Gelato, but head straight to one of the refreshing Italian Ices, where the texture is not just accepted but revels in the style. Mango-Mint is the real standout, but anything seasonal or alcohol-reminiscent should be just as fun. Though, now that I think about it, there is a chance the Nutella and Peanut Butter-based ones might turn out at least decent texture-wise.

Either way, both of these carts still make for a happy little frozen and flavorful treat on a sunny day. Do stop at one if you get the chance!

Hot Dish “100 Favorites” for 2014-15

It’s a little late in response (though aren’t most of my posts usually nowadays?), but I do always love featuring the Trucks that achieved the graces of making City Page’s “The Hot Dish blog’s top 100 Favorite Dishes for the year. I wanna make it a yearly thing! No promises of course… I am quite fickle… and forget things… SURE I’ll have another shot of Vodka.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, awesome food trucks. Though quite a few of the ones to make the list this year were purely resulting of the Restaurants they generated, but it deserves featuring (and I need SOME kind of material to flesh this post out some… don’t look at me like that! I’m needy…). So, let’s see who made the list this year…

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#77: Taco Cat with “The Larry”

They may not be an actual truck, but their street food soul shines bright, plus I recently did a quasi-review on them and feel they deserve continued honor in that respect. And their tacos are rather awesome, as is evidenced here through City Page’s feature of The Larry, a pile of Chicken, Chorizo, and Cheese stuffed inside three double-wrapped masa tortillas. Of course it’s the one that I didn’t get…

#62: The Curious Goat with Goat Cheese Curds

Their menu is quite frequently changing with whatever local ingredients they can get their hands on, but it’s not often one won’t find at least a few dishes with goat meat and/or cheese on the menu. And they take this latter up to an epitome of experience by lightly frying curds of it and serving with roasted butternut, some spring onions, and a drizzle of honey (my new favorite cheese curd companion forever). Again, something I dearly need to have at some point… here’s hoping for a rally.

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#55: Smack Shack’s Shrimp and Grits

I may still hold strong reservations and annoyances about this truck (don’t ask me why, I’ve probably lost proper reason for it long ago), but one can’t argue their food always gets results in those willing to spend the extra buck to attend their mobile or standing business. Usually getting renown for the lobster, this year highlighted one of the best southern combos to ever grace the table: Shrimp and Grits. I know, the last word strikes terror and disgust into many a heart, but done right than oh my god… I’m still vary happy to have gotten it at Surly myself.

#54: World Street Kitchen and The South Side

Not surprising to see them on this list again, this time for Brunch! The restaurant location serves out a dish composing of a bile of hashbrowns, ‘secret sauce,’ and some big chunks of lamb topped with basted eggs (which, if they’re PROPER basted eggs, are easily the most sinful and delicious way to eat them whole I swear).

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#39: Chef Shack Ranch with the Big Boy Ranch Plate        

I almost probably shouldn’t even be mentioning these gals on the post today, since the restaurant focus has almost NO connection to what the truck turns out, instead serving out bigass servings of classic BBQ. And it’s not a bbq joint without a giant parchment-paper-lined platter dolloped with practically one of everything, like grabbing a charcuterie board at the more hipster-ish locations but with hot, soul-fulfilling smoked meat… and more of it. As it’s apparently some of the best bbq in the Twin Cities, this little selection of pork and beef moved itself rather high up on the list.

#25: Hola Arepa’s Corn Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

Of course the local famed belter of the stuffed corn-dough sandwich is now turning out a dessert version, stuffing sinfully smooth vanilla ice cream in a sweet cookie dough filled with butterscotch, fritos, and corn flakes. Why didn’t they have THIS at brunch!?

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#7: Hola Arepa and the Beef & Plantain Arepa

That’s right, they got on twice! (And they’re not the only ones, damn Spoon and Stable… making me want to go to you when I don’t have enough moneh) And fitting we end on something that actually could come out of the Truck itself, their classic masa ‘flatbread’ bun stuffed with sweet, soft plantain, rich beef, tasty pickled onions and of course some sauce. It then gets kicked up to 11 when eaten in restaurant and served with those amazingly thick, crunchy Yuca Fries that I just think are perfect. No wonder they’re at the top of the books.

Well, that’s the second year for me done and taken care of, we’ll have to see how the following 2015-16 season goes. Will more trucks move to restaurants and fill the brackets, or will a resurgence in interest for starting mobile operations take precedence? Find out next time (he says in announcers voice as if he was coming back to this in a week and not a whole year)!!

Food Trucks Giving Back Article

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A recent article on M&R Trailer’s Blog site discusses a few of the food trucks that have taken part in charity work, in honor of the time of year, and I thought it’d be nice to share the link. It features a few trucks located in or near Florida, like Manna From Heaven, a Vietnamese truck who set aside part of their profits for homeless meals. The post also includes interviews with a non-profit bakery called All Things Sweet, an old member of a charity truck group called ‘Food Trucks for Families’ named Sweet City Gelato, a business that seeks out as many charity-benefitting catering jobs they can to offer their HipPOPS to, and American Disaster Relief’s own Tamale Truck.

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It’s always great seeing people take the time to support local causes, certainly hope for all the best luck and support to them that I can.

Fro Yo Soul

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http://www.fro-yo-soul.com/
https://twitter.com/FroYoSoul
Main Location: Minneapolis, St. Paul

Much like food trucks, the frozen yogurt, or ‘fro yo,’ shop craze has been blooming at a rather steady rate over the past decade. Being the live-in social outcast who’s never on the right web pages for staying up-to-date on these kind of things, I myself didn’t even discover these pump-yourself (oh god that sounds so wrong, but we know it’s so right) until a trip to San Francisco a few years back. For obvious reasons I jumped on the bandwagon and fell in love immediately, especially with some of the very special bevy of toppings to choose from, only to fly back to Minnesota, where though we have shops they are much farther away from my location than I’d like.

Now, taking this idea and turning it into a food truck isn’t that new either; special truck builders have been making these unique self-serve mobile fro yo creations for various entrepreneurs throughout the US for a few years. But sadly, we in the Twin Cities had yet to find one on our streets (much like the grilled cheese issue –shakes head-)… until now.

Fro Yo Soul entered the twin city street food race in late June of 2014 (of course I don’t notice until three months later… at this point I don’t know how much is my fault and how much is lack of others reporting), and so far has premiered with much acclaim. Much like the shops, Soul offers a set of frozen yogurt churners which one can pull from to have as much or as little of whatever flavor you desire. 6 of these machines are installed into the side, set into three pairs, each of which can be ‘twisted’ together if that’s one’s preference.

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The first pair of Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate is set to be a constant every day, but the other four machines are highly seasonal and changing often. They usually contain a pair of yogurt fruit-based options, like Pomegranate and the classic ‘Tart’ (plain yogurt) freezes, as well as a pair of Vegan Frozen Yogurts which really show the seasonality. On my visit these last two were Chai Tea and Pumpkin flavored, it being October. All of the frozen yogurt is completely Organic, and enhanced with vitamins and other good-body-ingredients (like they add at jamba juice or wherever).

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And of course, at the end of the line exists a variety of toppings; fresh Fruit, Cereal, classic Sprinkles and Candy options.  After pulling out as much of the frozen cream into your cup as you want and loading with toppings, the chilled concoction is weighed and priced accordingly, and we thus leave with a spoon in hand to enjoy the soft serve goodness.

Food: 8.5

                Best thing about going to one of these trucks for reviewing is I can sample multiple flavors without having to worry about exponentially large wallet removals. As such, I was able to grab the Dutch Chocolate, a twist of Pomegranate and Tart Yogurt, and their Vegan Pumpkin fro yo.
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As someone obsessed with ice cream, I can’t say that this reached the absolute pinnacle of sinful joy (well I guess it’s supposed to be good for you so that shouldn’t apply), but the yogurt concoctions were smooth, a little rich, without any undesired ‘milky’ flavor/textures (like Dairy Queen…). I did quite enjoy their chocolate, would definitely not mind a big bowl of that with some well-paired toppings. The fruit/yogurt options are somewhat interesting; it reminded me of all the Gogurts I was obsessed with as a kid. It really is the flavor and texture one would expect when they originally hear ‘frozen yogurt,’ whether that’s a good thing or bad in your desires. As such I will say that it wasn’t how I ideally want to experience the fruit flavor, almost felt confected/mass produced, but then again that’s pomegranate, where they probably had to use the pure juice, which CAN have that aspect to it when mixing with certain things. Perhaps other fruit flavors may come off better.

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And finally, the Vegan Fro Yo… actually came out better than what I was dreading. Texturally one could tell the difference between that and the original, but not in an inferior way. A little sharper, lighter in style vs the denser and creamier vanilla-chocolate, and the pumpkin flavor was handled pretty well I’d think. Lighter, retaining a bit of its sweetness and desired qualities. Very likely came from the can, it’s not as deep or complex of flavors that good, high quality ice cream places might make it, but it’s still quite good.

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When it comes to toppings, sad to say there’s not THAT much to choose from, at least not if you’re used to a lot of the other fro yo shops. A few cereals, fruit, and basic chocolate and gummy candies make up most of it; though I did find some interesting options in sprinkle cups of chia seeds, wasabi powder, and an option of sunflower seeds. I opted for the last, some granola (which was a nice version, not that crunchy though), and coconut. They don’t have any sauces (maybe on other days?), and I’m absolutely disheartened not to see the typical ‘pop pearls’ or, my absolute favorite, diced Mochi. Either way I really wish they amped up the number of offerings here; more fro yo options would be nice too, but I can understand the limited special requirements for that.

Holdability: 9

               Two hands required, but it’s pretty clean-going and unmessy.
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Price: 10

                At 58c per ounce, one really isn’t paying much for their selection of tasty frozen treats. With just over 5 ounces, my selection of three different options came to a bit over $3, and even if one really ‘loaded up’ to a heavy cupful I doubt they’d breach the $10 mark anytime soon. One can really see here how these shops got so popular.

Speed: 9.5

 

You make it yourself, time is taken up only by choosing your own options and weighing.

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The TOE: 7

                This style of truck and business is always fun and unique-looking for a reason, thus creating an enjoyable experience whenever one goes. On a down note, the act of doing everything yourself, though raising points in this category, also decreases due to a bit of disconnect from those running the business and experience in the first place. Also, I just gotta take a couple points off for having a topping selection that’s notably lacking compared to what I’ve seen in other fro yo shops (seriously, I want Mochi).

Tally: 44/50

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Final Thoughts

There’s not really much I can say here in terms of ‘suggestions;’ pick a flavor and put as much of it as you want on it, the place is as simple as that. Final options are all highly dependent on your own personal tastes, whether one enjoys fruity over chocolate or other flavors. All I can say here is that it’s a great place to get a treat on the cheap, so for anyone wanting SOME sort of Fun food truck experience with little money to spend it’s ideal. Not to mention a fantastic Dessert stop for Vegans (or anyone really).

Starting to think I should have just done a Quasi-review for these guys… oh well.

Green + The Grain

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https://www.facebook.com/greenandthegrain/info

https://twitter.com/GreenNtheGrain

Main Location: Minneapolis

By now I’ve made quite a few things known about what will and will not set me off through my various mobile visits. For example, the most puzzling oddity of someone indulging themselves in the street food culture only to get an item that is the most counterproductive I can think of; a Salad. Even more grievous are those places that seem to ruin what would otherwise be one of the perfect Food Truck offerings; my time at a certain vehicle still leaves a bad taste in my mouth from their attempt at Wraps.

So imagine my intrigue during my first visit of Green + The Grain, a very healthful and organic-inspired truck which made its way on the streets in June of this year, when my eyes sweep over a menu filled with nothing but these two different items which have made such an impact on me this past year. Only this time there actually seems to be a proper focus, and it’s actually done WELL.

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As you’ve surmised by now, GtG focuses on Salads and Wraps; or, to be more surprised, has a menu filled with different salads with the option of stuffing those same mixes into wraps (or vice versa). Peaking inside, one can see a whole row of mise en place stretching from one end of the giant order/delivery window to the end, each little container filled purely with greens, veggies, and the rare protein additions.

A seasonal menu, with various mix options supposedly changing at least once a week, future items may reach well beyond those discussed here (as should be considered for all seasonal Trucks I review, though I often fail to include the disclaimer due to laziness), but there seems to be a bit of a pattern so far. Chicken is the often-seen protein, commonly on the menu in Asian (also seen with Beef Tenderloin), Caesar, and Buffalo iterations, though the Berry Natural seems to be a set menu favorite, adding a delightful handful of fresh and dried fruit to the herb roasted poultry. If there’s anything that’s constant, outside of perhaps the Caesar, it’s the shared load of ingredients every single salad is filled with; greens, multiple veggies, croutons, apples, dressing, and who knows what else, the specifics of which morph and adjust depending on the final decision on focus.

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But of course there technically IS one other thing we can enjoy on our visits here; Organic Frozen Yogurt, supplied by Cloud Top and churned by GtG, garnished with whatever fruit and granola one desired. Their site does also make mention of a “signature tart,” though my luck in seeing it on my visit seemed to be quite poor. Ice cream machine wasn’t working either, luckily I wasn’t in the mood… maybe on future visits though…

So, what kind of potential can a downtown mobile Salad-based caterer have? Let’s find out.

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Food: 9.5

                I’ll admit, though my thoughts of it as street food is notably questionable, I still LOVE a GOOD Salad. An even dressing coating, with bright flavors and a range of crunchy texture, maybe some creaminess, just the best of lettuce and accompaniments. This pleasure has always been heightened even more when enjoyed inside a tight, soft tortilla shell.

So being able to have a wrap that properly fulfills these cravings, unlike the sad weak and dry versions seen in convenience stores and certain businesses, was quite the pleasure. All the vegetables were fresh, some apple slices brought the juicy crispness, and the croutons… oh the croutons. When I saw it opened up, I actually worried they may have already gotten soggy; silly me, their crunchiness was glorious as it should be. As for my salad of choice, Buffalo Shrimp, the shellfish was cooked properly with that nice snap, not dry or mealy. It wasn’t actually as “buffalo-y” as I though; the one thing I could say is that the flavor didn’t come through quite as much with everything else going on, but I still got some of that nice little heat here throughout. A good kind of hot sauce marinade, not the cliché traffic-warning-orange-colored stuff some places get in gallon jugs. Their use and manipulation of it allows my assumptions to stay positive in how they handle their other proteins and sauces/marinades.

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Holdability: 7

                 The first hurdle in a truck like this is, of course, their handling and display of the salad; and though one can never change its inability to eat with one hand when served plain, I do like and respect GnG’s packaging for the copious vegetation. A nice, tight, compact bowl that seems easy to carry and likely easy to consume out of. Ironically, it’s where the wraps come into play that issues pop up. It’s such a great way to eat on the go, a nicely tight, folded package around delicious filling, wrapped again in parchment to handle/avoid mess… and then they cut the damn thing in half, completely negating the whole purpose. I mean, I don’t mind having it halved in a restaurant, but now a one-handed ease venture turned into using both hands and trying to figure out how to ease it from its parchment bindings without everything collapsing on itself (I couldn’t quite figure it out, had some spillage). It makes something that should have been simple into an annoying challenge.

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Price: 6.5

                  Besides a $4 Soft Serve Yogurt ($6 for the large) and I’m assuming similarly priced Tart (or fruit cup in today’s case… interesting), every main-menu item is $9. Or, to be more honest, almost $10 with the tax; definitely one of the higher “set costs” on the street, though at the very least they DO give out a good amount of product for it. Tasty ones at that.

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Speed: 8.5

  Somewhat faster than average, it doesn’t take too long to pile and mix the various greens and fillings of these ingredients together and in a bowl or wrap of your choosing, even (or especially) with the decently sized serving.

The TOE: 9

                  Gotta give them credit for taking a style that makes my approach quite cautious and dubious and being able to turn it into a pretty fun and interesting visit. Image is clean and bright, sense of place is strong, and menu options are intriguing enough to create a need to come back (dessert… need…). Now if they only stop cutting our salad burritos in half then they could be a fully-load, strong warrior of the street.

Tally: 40.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Sad as it is to say, despite the Wraps this is still not one of the ideal mobile stops for those wanting to eat their main items while walking; best enjoyed sitting down. That said, whether your cravings lead to a boring salad (boooooooo) or an exciting version wrapped inside a tortilla (Yaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy… I’m not biased at all am I?), there are some fun ways to go.

There seem to be a few customer favorites, though overall I think the best experiences would lead from ordering the Asian Chicken/Beef, perhaps a Buffalo option, or one of the more interesting Seasonals (we still have yet to see what all they may have yet to do). Outside of this, their Tart looks to be a great small item as the snack-on-the-go, between stops or when one just wants something sweet. Frozen Yogurt is always good, but one can get that at a lot of places, I wouldn’t put it high on one’s list until they’ve tried other things desired.

Vellee Deli at Crema Cafe: the Visit

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                It’s been so long, I had actually forgotten how much I missed Vellee Deli. But with their recent Pop up venture at the Crema Café (home of the local Sonny’s Ice Cream), I had a chance to visit them once more in the cold months and experience one of my favorite street food ventures once more.

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                Though still keeping their Breakfast/Lunch Menu, the popular neighborhood café now swaps its Dinner dining options for Vellee’s starting at 5pm, Thursdays through Sundays. The menu, unlike many other truck-turned-sit-down-affair businesses, still sticks purely with what is offered on the truck without anything new, though now we can get all three burritos that have been offered (if I’m correct they usually only do two of which at a time from the truck).

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                Which ended up great for me, since I was able to go along with a couple other people and grab a bevy of items, those yet unexperienced and a certain favorite. And unlike at the truck, one’s able to take advantage of Crema’s still-operating full drink offerings to grab something special, like say a couple nice beers or…

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                … a warm, fluffy, steamed-milk topped cup of their Homemade Chai Tea. Mmmmm, that was good on the snowy night we went. Let me say, I love my Chai, and though I’m no expert it’s certainly the best version of it that I’ve had so far (though Namaste Café comes in a close second, they certainly have the advantage in variety options); not to mention it sorta works nicely with the Korean/Asian cuisine.

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                Speaking of the cuisine, I finally got my hands on their Dragon Enchilada. Which, certainly, had a nice crispy crust and some tasty, gooey cheese-meat insides, though it ultimately didn’t wow me as much as some of their other options. I’ve certainly had much worse versions of it though, and if you’re an enchilada junky it’s a solid one to buy.

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                Now, the Chicken Currito (-cough- curry burrito), that’s back on the Vellee Deli tracks. Very distinct, delicious, and well-rounded, with that nice combo of mouthfuls of soft rice paired alongside tender, delicately yellow-flavored curry chicken, a creamy bright sauce and properly used crispy lettuce. Basically hitting that burrito perfection reminiscent of the better trips to Chipotle (cuz we all know there are the “good” Chipotle stores and the not so good), but of course with a very well-put ethnic flavor twist.

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                Of course, with it being my colleague’s first visit, we had to get the Bahn Mi. I feel there’s nothing I need to say about this than what I’ve said before; still the best bahn mi that I’ve had, truck or otherwise.

                The Café itself is pretty small, so it can be tricky finding seats during one of the “rush” periods, especially with a group, so if planning on visiting for a sit-down affair then it’s best to time things properly. But one doesn’t have to just come for Vellee, as my little group can attest; we had to end the night with some of their ice cream.

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                Yep, that’s a nice little display of flavors. We decided to grab a scoop each of Raspberry-Chocolate-Truffle, Butter-Toffee, and Chocolate-Almond. Delicious as always, though I say that about most ice cream…

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                Overall, a very fun and successful co-op venture into temporary mobile housing (yes, I could have said that in a much simpler way, but I chose not to! Ha!), it almost makes me feel sad that it shall only last 5 months. Then again, I want Vellee back on the street, so I guess I shouldn’t really complain. For those feeling the craving for their fare, or any Korean/Pan-Asian kind of meal, do take the chance to head on down for a bite, a drink, and/or a cool frozen snack. And until the season is over, I wish both the businesses luck and success in this slow-season strategy, and good eatings to all those traveling their way.

Ice Blocks and Snow (with an Asian Twist), NOT Brick and Mortar

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http://blogs.mspmag.com/dara/2013/12/vellee-deli-pop-up-at-crema/                  

                  So, Vellee Deli is doing a Pop-up, Dinner and Winter-only Restaurant in Crema Café come January huh? Well now doesn’t that just brighten up our spirits? Just think, a Latin-Korean Truck Winter-Premiering in an Old Italian Ice Cream spot, it’s a hipster’s dream and I swear if they were opening now it’d be the start of a new Holiday Carol…

                   Let me just say I’m not gonna even try and expound and contribulate and philosophize about this happening in the slightest, I think the article above does a good enough job at it to warrant the respect of me not trying to “compete.”  Some base details, again, is that Vellee is opening this in January, lasting until May, in the Uptown Crema Café, known very well for their small-batch, handmade Ice Cream (gelato I hope), and of course Espresso. It’s dinner-only, as mentioned, and suffice it to say I can’t wait until the New Year’s. I’m so going down there the first chance I get, and I suggest you do the same.

                   So excited!

 

SFC: Frozen Bomb

                Winter means a lot of things to different people, especially us Minnesotans. Holidays, ice skating, impossible-to-treck driveways, warm fireplaces and toasted marshmallows, chicken noodle soup, snowball fights, the inability to drive anywhere without warming up the car for half an hour… and others. But above all others, the highlight of winter to me always comes down to one thing: it’s Pomegranate season!

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                Yes, these sweet, purple grenades filled with bundles of tart, juice-filled “seeds” (which in reality are the actual “fruit,” by technical definitions), just waiting to be opened and snacked on when it gets cold. Of Middle Eastern origin (I believe), I think quite a few people throughout the continent have become thankful of the treck these guys have made to land here in the US.

                And then we get it, and want it, and crave it… and have to spend an hour or so carefully getting every last delicious seed out with painstaking annoyance. I’m sure we’ve all tried certain methods, only to find them not as succesfull as claimed, or simple struggle in keeping as many seeds unbroken as possible. Whether this is due to bad techniques or simply poor execution can be debated, but either way it leads to frustration.

                As such, I thought I’d go over a couple of the more successful and useful methods as I work to salvage as many seeds and juice as possible for a special frozen treat.

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                Gotta break this open first; a few things I found tell you to cut the top off like an orange, but you’re still slicing through a small cluster of the seeds with that. Same obviously goes with straight cutting it in half; the safest method (with a bit of practice) comes with carefully scoring a line, just a bare few millimeters deep or so, around the tough skin (I think vertically is supposed to work better, as opposed to laterally like I did).

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                Carefully grasp the scored line with your fingers and pull apart; it can be difficult, since you don’t want to put too much pressure directly on the fruit itself (causing more seeds to burst). Oh, and I think it’s safe to say that by at least this step you should be working over a bowl to collect any falling seeds and escaping juice (it’s impossible not to get a few broken seeds, no matter how hard we try).

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                We’re about to employ the “beat them out” technique of releasing the seeds, but before that we need to actually loosen the fruit up a bit, otherwise those seeds will just want to stay where they are. Just grab the edges and sort of stretch and work the outside skin a bit, you’ll know when it’s good.

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                Invert over the bowl, fingers holding underneath, and grab a good wooden spoon or equivalent. The rest is simple: smack it down, HARD, and Many Times. Do NOT be shy, otherwise you won’t get many seeds; well, you’re not going to get them all anyways, but you can get big chunks out with some hard wacks. Don’t forget to rotate the fruit around to get all the “corners.”

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                Pick out any bit of “flesh” you can (that spongy white stuff, which believe me, does NOT taste good at all… burn it to hell I say) and pour seeds over a fine strainer to collect any juice from potential broken seeds. This can be reserved (say, in a tiny little porcelain lion thumb cup) for recipes or just doing a little health shot.

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                A slower but seemingly more thorough and less damaging method (and a good one to use with any seeds still left on the fruit after beating) involves that ubiquitous bowl of water. Submerge the cut open and loosened section of fruit inside (I’ve seen some recipes suggest soaking it in there for 15 minutes, I don’t really see the need) and carefully pick through the many clusters with your thumb. The water makes the process a little gentler (it’s hard to say why, you just don’t need to force it as much), and the best part is all that bitter flesh floats to the top.

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                Of course there are always some small bits of it still stuck to seeds that don’t float, but the majority is now taken care of. Just skim off the top with a strainer and dump to a trash. The one downside of this method is, while the other garners more RISK of breaking seeds, at least you can collect the juice after. With this it all dissolves into the water. Thus why I prefer combining the two.

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                Store your pomegranate seeds in a covered container with a dampened paper towel and save for snacking or for whatever application you choose.

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                In my case, honoring the coming winter snows and the classic pairing of pomegranate (or other fruit) with yogurt, I’m trying my hand at Frozen Yogurt with Pomegranates mixed in. The seeds themselves need no more prep than popping in the freezer on a tray beforehand (since we’re mixing them in at the end, this will both firm them up from bursting and retain little risk of disrupting the frozen treat’s all-important ice crystals).

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                Another reason for my choosing to do frozen yogurt this day was when I researched various recipes; expecting to encounter many a mix requiring about ½ cup of yogurt mixed with 2 cups of crème anglaise mixture, and opinion formed after looking over MANY boxes of Edy’s and other Store Frozen Yogurts during a certain period of lactose intolerance, which had at the point completely and thoroughly destroyed my initial hopes and impressions of what “frozen yogurt” was. Fast forward to my online research in the last week, where to my surprise I found not one, but TWO separate recipes made with 100% Yogurt for their dairy source. I think a few companies have some explaining to do.

                But making your own frozen yogurt is pretty easy, particularly with this recipe. You’ll need to get some good, Plain Greek Yogurt (no flavored, it’s all artificial and doesn’t really taste that good anyway), or make your own by straining regular yogurt as I did (hopefully I’ll be able to make my own from scratch at some point, but for now storebought it is). Here’s How:

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                Take your giant tub of yogurt and upend it into a strainer lined with 2 layers of Cheesecloth. If cheesecloth isn’t readily at hand, or it’s a little pricey for you to buy (the only cheesecloth I can buy is this small 10ft roll at my local Cub, the price which can add up if you were to buy often), you can easily use a clean, white cotton dish towel. I use them a lot, and at the moment have ended up just reserving one or two purely for food use.

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                Place inside a large bowl and set in fridge to strain overnight, covered of course. The original recipe detailing this states that the amount of Strained Yogurt received after this will be half the starting amount, but ultimately I think it’ll depend on what yogurt you use. Either way, what you’ll end up with is a firm, compact package of what I can only describe as seeming to be a cross between yogurt and goat cheese in texture (and sorta flavor too, but still very strong yogurty).

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                To this we can now add the very few ingredients needed. For every 2 cups of Yogurt, add ½ cup of sugar-source (raw sugar, honey, corn syrup, etc) and 1 Tsp vanilla or other extract. Though, I don’t like adding in the sugar raw to such a thick substance, so I put it in a sauce pot with honey and a touch of water and heat up to ensure that it fully dissolves and incorporate better.

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                Mix those together, and place in fridge for at least an hour to fully cool down and ensure complete sugar dissolvement.

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                Ready whichever device one uses to freeze and churn their ice cream, and add your prepared Frozen Yogurt base. Follow directions for proper churning, and it will be ready when it looks like thick ice cream.

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                While it’s freezing, we can make the topping: Pomegranate Molasses. Basically put, a thick syrup made from reducing pomegranate juice to pretty extreme lows (if you’ve ever made a balsamic reduction for a sauce, think about 1 or 2 steps FURTHER than that). But we need some juice to do this first, which can be gotten pretty simply.

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                Just take any leftover seeds one has and pop it into the blender. Cover and pulse until it’s all DESTROYED. Believe me, this is the best way to get juice out of fresh seeds, probably just cuz it acts as a container so that you don’t get exploding juice everywhere. Not that you’re getting a lot of it; a whole pomegranate is likely to only give, say, a half to a whole cup of juice to enjoy. It’s fine if you don’t need a lot, but if at some point you are needing a LARGE amount of juice for some bulk job, just buy the stuff pre-juiced, seriously. Otherwise it’s a lot of bitchy work getting yourself.

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                Strain into a bowl and transfer to a wide sauté pan. Get it hot, watch it bubble, swirl the pan and do NOT leave it alone. It’s a very thin line between reduction, molasses, and too-damn-thick. Not that it can’t be fixed with a little bit of added water or more juice and heating back to thickness.

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                Just remember, as with all cooled sauces it’ll be thicker once cooled down, so take it off the heat when it’s a little looser than the ideal thickness.

                Now that that’s ready in the fridge and the yogurt is frozen, we can finish and serve. Pour the frozen pomegranates into the churner to mix in (never want to do this at the beginning, otherwise they’ll just break up and make it all purple, won’t have any of those beautiful little pockets). Depending on the strength and style of ice cream maker, though, you may have to just take it out and do it by hand; it DOES get pretty thick after freezing, much easier to get a thorough encorporating with your hands.

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                Can either serve it as is, “soft serve” (ish), or transfer to a container and move back into the freezer for a few hours or overnight to firm up. Once done, scoop into the preferred vessel of choice and garnish. My toppings included fresh seeds, the molasses, and slivers of handmade candied ginger and ginger-sugar sprinkles.

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                And there we have it, a classic winter fruit completely taken apart and made into a classic frozen street delight. Though it may not be the first thing we crave with this weather, one can’t deny the mix of nostalgia, fun, and deliciousness. I hope this at least inspires some of you to pick up more than one pomegranate throughout the season and dive into it with a further. Good Luck when you do, and Good Eating when you’re finished.