When I decided near the end of 2010 that I needed to find my own ‘food blogging’ tribe I was unsure what that would mean. It’s clear that some cities on both the east and west coast have a plethora of people who write, photo and do all things food. Here in Denver I felt very much like what I would call ‘The Lone Stranger; so instead of lamenting what others had, I decided to start a Meetup group for local food bloggers. Fast forward 18 months and I’ve been blessed with making some real friendships with people that ‘get it.’ Our families might not, our friends don’t see what the big deal is but having a relationship with real friends who understand the joy, frustration and sometimes even confusion of the world of food blogging can make my day. We can commiserate when too tired to cook, exalt when for some reason we have a unexplainable traffic spike and in the best way, can be a part of the synergy I craved when I thought of starting a group.
My friend Karen who blogs at Savoury Table gets it; we didn’t know each other that first time we met with a group of others in my home but now we seldom go a week without seeing each other; we talk on the phone several times a week and yes, we can both call with the most mundane food blogging issue and have someone on the other end of the phone that does not roll their eyes as if talking about this ‘thing’ that we invest so much time in is idiotic. I’m thankful for that. As importantly we also share opportunities large and small.
One such opportunity recently came about because of Karen’s history with the Blue Bell Creamery brand. They are from Texas and so is she. When she heard their ice cream was now available in Colorado she was as excited as a kid and contacted them about coming to visit their facility. I’m not from Texas and frankly was not familiar with the brand so if her excitement was not matched by mine I did trust her judgement when she asked if I would like to accompany her for a tour and a tasting. Really? An ice cream tasting? Talk about a tough assignment right? Lea Ann, who writes the Highlands Ranch Foodie blog would be joining us too and the morning before our meeting I queried followers on Twitter wondering who wanted to come. I might have been kidding but they were not..seems we’re going to have to schedule something a LOT bigger the next time!
As it turns out the Blue Bell facility in the Denver area is just minutes from me in Centennial, CO. They are a distribution facility so all of the ice cream is still made and packaged in Texas and shipped here for distribution to local grocers. See that truck…there is a goldmine of ice cream in there!
Blue Bell has a long history, starting in 1901 as the Brenham Creamery Company. First established to make butter from excess cream brought to them by local farmers, they would make small batches of ice cream for themselves but it was not a part of their product line. It took a few years but eventually the creamery did decide to make ice cream for customers and would deliver it to neighbors by horse and wagon. In 1930 it was decided to change the name to Blue Bell Creameries, after the native Texas bluebell which grows as a wildflower.
In keeping with their long tradition of making ice cream for employees, they keep a freezer of ice cream stocked for them in the break room. I just love their saying, “We eat all we can and sell the rest.’ That’s certainly a delicious part of working there; I’m filling out my application very soon!
Blue Bell makes an extraordinary number of flavors; some year round and others seasonal. This month they have a new flavor, Summer Strawberry Pie which is a strawberry ice cream with sweetened strawberries, flaky pie crust pieces and a whipped topping swirl. Can you say YUM? This was just one of the flavors we were able to enjoy at home. I also had some Orange Swirl which I loved…it’s sort of a Creamsicle in a container as it’s orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream.
During our tasting, we were lavished with samples of ice creams available in their half gallon packaging (YES, a real half gallon!) as well as some of their Snack Products. While most of the snack products seemed marketed for kids, I tasted everything and even though a bit apprehensive I managed the Sour Apple Pops. While not my personal favorite I could sure see how they would appeal to someone who likes those sour type of treats. Filled with enough ice cream I decided I could only try one bite from their Coconut Fruit Bars. Did I love those? Stuffed or not it would have taken every person in that room to have pried that baby from my hands. Not only did I finish it but admit I might have looked around for more. So fabulous!
The day we went to visit was prior to the hellacious heat wave we had in Denver. The part of the facility where the ice cream is stored is kept at twenty degrees below zero. That would have felt so good compared to 107. Next time I hope they’re prepared; I’m coming over and I’m bringing a cot. Add to that respite delicious ice cream as far as the eye can see? Heaven.
Anxious to try making an ice cream treat of some sort at home, we were provided with coupons so that we could choose what appealed to us the most. While I admit I love ice cream, I have a strong affinity towards Vanilla Bean so I stepped WAY outside my comfort zone and and bought some Vanilla Bean with Fresh Strawberries. I decided to make a dessert in a springform pan that began with a crumble made from ice cream sugar cones, butter, brown sugar and pecans. I layered the crumbs with ice cream and a rich fudge sauce, and topped it all with macerated fresh strawberries. I could tell you I ‘recipe developed’ for days putting this one together but the truth is I walked past those cones after buying the ice cream and it was a light bulb moment…how perfect would they be for the crumbs? The finished result was so good and so welcome on another overly warm day. Not my ideal for getting the perfect photo but then we eat the food I photograph, replicating this treat using solid shortening was not happening here!
A vanilla and strawberry ice cream frozen dessert combined with a sugar cone crumble and a layer of rich fudge sauce.
- 4 oz Baker's Sweet Chocolate (German's Chocolate Bar in Green Box)
- 6 Tablespoons half and half
- One package of 12 sugar cones
- 1/2 cup (one stick) of butter, melted
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans
- The cooled Sugar Cone Crumble
- 1/2 Gallon Vanilla Bean with Strawberries Ice Cream
- The cooled Chocolate Sauce
- For the Strawberries for Topping:
- 2 Cups fresh strawberries
- 2-3 Tbsp sugar
- Put the ice cream in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to soften.
- Break the chocolate bar up into pieces and put into a microwave safe bowl. Add the half and half and heat on medium speed for 1 minute. Remove and stir and heat on medium for another minute, whisking the half and half into the chocolate to result in a spreadable sauce. Allow to cool completely.
- To Prepare the Crust:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Break up the sugar cones and put them into a food processor; pulse briefly until the pieces are in large chunks.
- Add the pecans, brown sugar and butter to the processor and process the mixture until well blended but not smooth. You want the crumble to have some chunks of both the cones and pecans in the mix.
- Spread the mixture on a prepared pan (I cover my pans with aluminum foil to facilitate easy cleanup)
- Bake for 5 minutes, remove from oven mix and redistribute the crumbs and bake for another 5 minutes until just lightly brown.Cool Completely.
- Empty all of the ice cream into a large bowl and stir smooth with a large spoon.
- Place your springform pan onto double layers of aluminum and wrap the bottom tightly (the ice cream may leak a bit before it starts to freeze. Yes I found this out the hard way.)
- Sprinkle half of the cooled sugar cone crumbs in the bottom of the springform pan.
- Layer with half of the softened ice cream.
- Sprinkle the rest of the crumbs evenly over the ice cream.
- Dribble the chocolate sauce using a spoon over the entire surface of the dessert and then using a knife smooth the chocolate layer. Put the rest of the ice cream into the springform pan, smooth the top and wrap the entire pan in foil.
- Put in the freezer and freeze until the ice cream has hardened; overnight if possible.
- Slice the strawberries in thick slices, sprinkle with sugar, mix, cover and allow to set until time to plate the dessert.
- When ready to serve, remove the springform from the dessert. Put it on a large plate or cookie sheet and flip it over to remove the metal bottom of the form. Using a serving plate, flip again to have the crust on the bottom.
- To Serve, cut the dessert into slices and spoon the fresh strawberries on top.
Many thanks to Karen for setting up this adventure and to Blue Bell’s District Manager Kevin McDermott for hosting us; it was fun to get to see the operation and now Blue Bell has a new Colorado fan! Blue Bell is available at most large grocery stores and Walmart in these states:
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming.
Disclaimer: We were provided with ice cream but were not required to or compensated for posting and all opinions are mine, all mine.
UPDATE: If you’re a regular reader of this blog you might recall that if I make something again that I first posted 2-3 years ago I’m often inclined to redo the photos. I’ve learned a lot in that time and have better equipment and sometimes a new photo brings such renewed life to a post.
This time though it didn’t take years, it took days. I made this dish on a Saturday with the intent of photographing it on Sunday for a post scheduled on Monday. Although we are thankfully not immersed in the triple digit heat of a couple of weeks ago, my timing for this shoot was all wrong. I waited til after noon when the back of my house starts to get hit with the sun and starts to warm up my kitchen and dining room (actually I need to just start calling this my photo studio!). No matter how hard I tried to make it work, I could not get anything but melting ice cream. I was doing a post with two others and we had a schedule set so I just did the best I could and went with those photos. They bugged me for 2 days. I still had the dessert in the fridge so I finally caved and shot it again…and am so glad I did. Here are a couple of things I learned along the way.
- Timing is everything; if I had scheduled everything so I could have shot this in the morning, it would have been much cooler.
- Freeze your plates. (I know…duh??)
- I found that instead of just cutting the dessert and putting it on ice cold plates that taking it one further step really helped. I cut the individual slices, put them on the cold plates from the freezer and then put both plates back into the freezer for about 10 minutes. Freezing that smaller piece seemed to harden it up a bit more.
I found the difference in this shoot was huge. It might have only been the difference between seconds and minutes; I probably had 5 minutes for the second shoot compared to literally none for the first one before the ice cream started to degrade and in this instance that was everything! I’m all for keeping it real but I really thought it looked better without the melting business…what do you think?
Lesson learned…I’m doing more ice cream this summer; let’s hope I won’t have to redo each one!