Conehead

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So you're walking through your neighborhood, trying to decide where to go for dinner and kinda tired of all the usual choices, when you notice a new place you hadn't seen before. It beckons to you the way a mudhole calls to a three-year-old in Sunday finery, whispering of forbidden delights heretofore unknown to your poor senses numbed by mediocrity. Excited, you give it a try and it is a revelation. Every morsel throws a new penalty flag on your taste buds for excessive jubilation. You walk out the door energized, already forseeing many future returns to your new favorite haunt. The next time you visit, the doors are boarded up and the place is emptier than Wrigley Field in the post season.

Perhaps you buy into the ballyhoo of a new fall television program. You set your Season Pass or, among the hoi polloi, schedule your Friday evening around the show. You get sucked in by the quality writing, delightful plotting, and chemistry among the cast. You can't wait to see how the show's mysteries unfold over time, how the bread crumbs of future developments ever-so-carefully doled out come to fruition in due course. The show becomes a highlight of your viewing week. And then WHAM, before the season's half over, the plug gets pulled and you're left mourning what might have been.

Well, then, you understand how I feel about H�agen Dazs Caramel Cone Explosion ice cream. Available on the American market for a brief time a few years ago as part of their "Extraas" line, Caramel Cone Explosion was quite simply the best ice cream flavor ever. It even eclipsed Ben & Jerry's defunct but sublime Rainforest Crunch (the victim of rising South American nut prices and a heinous maybe-they-won't-notice metamorphosis into Dilbert's World Totally Nuts), the previous title holder. Just how good was Caramel Cone Explosion? A single cup had as much artery-clogging saturated fat (20 grams) as two McDonald's Quarter Pounders with Cheese. Oooooooh, baby.

But just as suddenly as it appeared, Caramel Cone Explosion went away. Not since the unexpected disappearance of the PBMax candy bar-- the most divine chocolate-and-peanut-butter concoction ever to grace the planet-- had I been so traumatized. What is it with the sugar barons at these confection conglomerates? Are we just toys to them? Mere playthings to be teased at their whim? "Here, my pretty-- have some live-giving oxygen. Drink deeply of its sweet purity. Now gasp in wretched, unending agony as I take it away forever."

So you can imagine my joy as, stealing a glance at the ice cream case en route to suckling once again at the Tater Tot teat, I espied a new flavor in the H�agen-Dazs section: Caramel Cone. Apparently explosions are no longer a marketing coup in a post 9/11 world, or perhaps almonds were a catalyst to the explosive effect and, lacking nuts in its new incarnation, the company elected not to promise what it could not deliver. Be that as it may, the essence of the flavor has returned and I rejoice.

I cannot, however, tell you how it compares to its ancestor. First, because in claiming the follicles from atop my head the mists of time have seemingly also stolen my memories of bygone flavors. Second, because I have not yet sampled the new apple in my supermarket's frozen garden of Eden. I'm wise to their tricks now. Fool me once, and all that. I'm sure Caramel Cone will be on the shelves just long enough to send me into spasms of insulin withdrawal when the company fiendishly discontinues the product.

And third, I've moved on. Dissatisfied with the prepackaged options I took matters into my own hands and got myself an ice cream machine. When Caramel Cone sang and smiled I lashed myself to the milk, cream, and almonds in my basket and sailed clear of the ice cream case completely, setting course for a batch of homemade toasted almond ice cream.

Let 'em try and pull cream off the market.

25 Comments

You are right about PBMax. I found that it and a Snapple were the foundation of about any satisfying lunch I had in my early twenties. PBMax dissappeared and somehow Snapple lost much of its appeal.

Dude, it's just ice cream. :-)

Actually, you have quite the flair for writing about frozen confections. It's one of the things that keeps me coming back.

"Dude, it's just ice cream."

You've never been to a Cold Stone Creamery, have you?

Peter, I don't think he understands.... :)

(me, I miss Ben & Jerry's Wavy Gravy....)

I've always been fond of Dreyer's Dreamery Coney Island Waffle Cone. I just saw Haagen Dasz Caramel Cone the other day in the store and assumed it was a copy of the Dreamery flavor. I suppose it must be the other way around. If so, more fools they for taking it off the market. Coney Island Waffle Cone is da bomb.

Now, the Haagen Dasz flavor I've been mourning recently is Vanilla Caramel Brownie. It's vanilla with caramel and chunks of brownie. What's not to like? And yet I can't find it any more. Sigh.

What I'm about to say will seem like a complete travesty to some of you, but here it is: Peter's whole article reminds me of strong cravings I have about certain brands and flavors of instant noodle. :) If you have eaten only TOP Ramen, you will certainly not understand how craving, nay, pining for instant noodle can be possible. One particular brand/flavor of instant noodle is the only food toward which I have developed the classic Pavlovian response -- I started salivating when the water is still boiling. Does PBMax, CaramelCone, or whatever do that to you?

Back on topic: Coming from Asia, I have never had nor understood the desire for any ice-cream based on chocolate, fudge, caramel, nuts, etc. Give me (tropical) fruit ice-creams any day! Mango! Coconut! Pineapple! Berries!

I tried Dreamery's Coney Island Waffle Cone, and it's not nearly as good as Caramel Cone Explosion. I think the main difference is in the ice cream itself, which if I remember correctly is just vanilla in the Dreamery product. The H�agen-Dazs ice cream was heavenly even without the mixed-in goodies.

I've never gone for fruit ice creams, probably because for me the flavors of fruit and cream just don't mix. I loathe orange creamsicles, for example. Love strawberries, don't like strawberry ice cream. Strawberries and (whipped) cream? Delightful. Go figure. If I'm going for a frozen fruit treat, I'll opt for a sorbet where the fruit flavor is unpolluted by dairy.

So, as someone who has only had TOP Ramen, what would you recommend to broaden my culinary horizons? I have access to a good Asian supermarket, with lots of packaged noodle soup products I can't distinguish from one another. Any recommendations? And advice on how to make sure I'm getting the right thing when I can't read Chinese?

Actually, I have been to a Cold Stone. My wife introduced me to them recently. Yes, they'er quite the treat.

I agree that fruit sorbets are great! I was only commenting that I'd still prefer (well made) fruit ice-creams to (supposedly famous / popular) chocolate/caramel/nut-based ice-creams.

Re: Ramen, I was afraid you would ask because if you had any high expectations based on what I wrote, it'll be very hard to meet those expectations. Among my Chinese friends (and I am Chinese), I'd say about 10% are very particular about their ramen, just like me. And among us ramen fans, everyone has different favorites. (I guess it's just the same with ice-cream.) So, there is no guarantee that you'd like my favorite, and then you'd dismiss the whole scene of "ramen fandom" because you tried my recommendation and thought "eh". :) Just imagine I never ate ice-cream in my life, then tried caramel cone explosion, and didnt like it, and thought "How could anyone be crazy about this ice-cream thing". I guess a better analogy from our common background is you enthusiastically introduce someone to Carcassonne and he didnt like it and then secretly formed an opinion that the entire "german games fandom" is nuts for spending so much energy "playing games!"

With that disclaimer in mind, the noodle that elicited Pavlovian response from me is Tung-I brand spicy beef noodle, image here: http://images.yifanmall.com/39s.jpg If your store has it, it'll probably cost 35-50 cents a pack. If not, a lot of other ramen fans I know also love various kinds of super-spicy Korean instant noodles. I dont know the exact brand but just try some package that is somewhat more expensive that most other ramen packs in the store, and with Korean characters and typically fiery-red packaging. :) There are also good miso-based, or tom-yum-kung-based (thai spicy shrimp soup) instant noodles which I like very much, but if you gotta start somewhere, the spicy beef noodle above may be as good a random start as any. (Unless you tell me you dont like spicy, of course.)

It is important not just to buy a good ramen pack; it is also very important to cook it right. IMHO, the key to cooking instant noodle is not to overcook it. Boil water, dump in noodles, stir to separate strands ASAP, eat half a strand from the pot after 2 minutes or so and take off fire when the noodle is still slightly chewy (but no fibrous core). Then immediately rinse in cold water to stop cooking, and drain away most cold water. Mix soup base with a little bit of hot water separately. Then add rinsed, drained noodle to soup base. Eat at once. If done correctly the noodle should still be a bit chewy, although not as "al dente" as proper Italian pasta. In the case of spicy noodles like the one I recommended, use the entire dry powdery soup base package, but add only enough spicy-looking stuff (usually the oil or fatty grease package) to taste.

At this point you're probably thinking if so much care is needed (rinse, drain, make soup separately), what's the point of eating "instant" noodles?? Well, it's still "instant" in the sense of fast, but it's not as effortless as putting the TOP ramen noodle + soup base into the same pot to cook and making a gooey starchy mess of overcooked melt-in-your-mouth noodles. For me, the extra effort is well worth it. But like I said, there is no guarantee you will be rewarded even if you buy my recommended noodle and go through all the trouble of cooking it my way. See, I'm trying to lower your expectation here... :) Anyway, if you do try it, tell me the results by private email!

OK, for those of you still looking for ice-cream chat: what is the most unusual ice-cream flavor you had? For me it was white pepper ice-cream, in a fancy Asian-fusion restaurant. It was more unusual than good, though.

I just tried Caramel Cone last night, and I found it good, but not nearly as good as Coney Island Waffle Cone. Could be that it's all about what you had first - I had Coney Island first, so the Haagen Dazs seems a pale imitation. I like the caramel-flavored ice cream, but I'm not so happy with the amount of actual caramel in the ice cream. Coney Island Waffle Cone has a goodly amount of caramel ribbon. Yum.

As to ramen - interestingly, in the "normal" Japanese ramens, I find "Nissin" brand to be a big improvement on Top Ramen, which is odd as they're made by the same company. Also, it's worth trying Sapporo Ichiban ramen, as it's the most popular in Japan.

The "fresh" ramen you can find in the refrigerated case at Uwajimaya is also worth a try, though it's a different animal than the dry ramen, which uses fried noodles that have a richer mouthfeel than the traditional noodles made with just flour, water, and salt they use in the refrigerated packs. But it's still worth trying. It's a very different ramen experience.

My personal favorite is chicken-flavor Sapporo Ichiban, with a pinch of ginger, a dash of sesame oil, a dash of hot oil, and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

Both Nissin and Sapporo Ichiban are very good for their basic flavors. My favorite "basic" ramen is Nissin chicken, which is actually very similar to Sapporo Ichiban chicken. I was actually debating whether to recommend Nissin basic chicken, or the Tung-I spicy beef, to Peter. I finally decided to recommend the more exotic spicy beef because even if Peter didnt like it, at least it would be a more different experience than Top Ramen.

Don also made a good point about fresh ramen. In all my posts so far, I've used "ramen" in the sense of "instant noodles", which is I guess technically incorrect. Ramen is actually a kind of yellow noodle. The naming confusion comes from the fact that the earliest, and still most popular, instant noodles all try to imitate (and are marketed as) ramen. There are other instant noodles based on rice noodles, clear noodles, etc.

>a pinch of ginger, a dash of sesame oil, a dash of hot oil, and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

Do these fixins come with the Sapporo Ichiban chicken ramen pack? I didnt remember them when I tried it years ago. Or are these extras you add from your fridge / kitchen rack?

All those extras are from my own pantry. Nissin (and Top Ramen) has a "sesame chicken" flavor that has sesame oil and sesame seeds, but I'd rather just add my own. The "Oriental" or "Traditional" flavor (which is basically a shoyu flavor) is also good with sesame oil and sesame seeds. Heck, any ramen is good with ginger, sesame oil, hot oil, and sesame seeds. What's not to like?

If I want to get really fancy, I'll throw in some sliced hard-cooked egg, or some scrambled egg, or sliced or chopped meat of just about any variety. Chopped scallions are good too.

Don, I agree completely re: the extras. My favorites include sliced chinese braised beef, or sliced ham, or sliced fried spam, and/or fried egg. yummy...

But Peter might begin to suspect this ramen thing is like stone soup (or was it nail soup?) -- it's not the noodle (stone, nail) itself, but what you add to the same pot that's yummy! Let me dispel this and state clearly: if you get a good ramen pack and cook it right, it is yummy all by itself (and much better than TOP ramen by itself). The extras are indeed extras.

Next time I swing by Uwajimaya, I'll try to remember to look for the ramen you suggested. I'll keep my expectations suitably low. =)

And now, as further proof that I don't get out much, I present:

http://www.ramendepot.com/

Vastly overpriced, but interesting from a research standpoint. When I'm not eating Top (which I vastly prefer over Maruchan; the noodles seem to have more "tooth" to them), this is what I buy to take to work:

http://www.ramendepot.com/r/ramendepot/default.asp?S=503&A=E&PKV=0119KNB254903|0

$2.99 per is a laugh - I get 'em at both Central Market and Uwajimaya for around 89 cents. The soup is appropriately hot and spicy, as opposed to wussy American seasoning levels.

(And, most unusual ice cream? Those who know where I'm from will not be surprised at all: garlic. Given away free as a long-standing tradition at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. And it's not that bad, although I wouldn't eat it by the pint.)

What Chris suggested is also a favorite of some of my friends who like spicy Korean instant noodles, IIRC. (See? It fits my original description of "somewhat more expensive that most other ramen packs in the store, and with Korean characters and typically fiery-red packaging.") The big character means "spicy" BTW.

Uwajimaya sounds like a Japanese store. If so, it will not have my favorite Tung-I spicy beef, which is a Chinese brand. But you can certainly look for Nissin, Sapporo Ichiban, or that Korean spicy one. For Tung-I, or other weird but yummy Chinese flavors like spareribs, or preserved cabbage, you need a Chinese grocery store.

Good luck Peter! :)

Okay, so now I'm letting blogs dictate my eating/spending habits. This evening on the way home from work I stopped at the grocer to pick up bread and milk. Out of curiosity, I peeked into the ice cream bin to see if they had Caramel Cone. Sure enough, they did. What the hell -- I threw one in my basket.

Oh my lord I have never tasted ice cream before this night! It's like sex on a spoon. All other ice creams taste like crushed ice compared to my beloved Caramel Cone. I'm not a fan of nuts in ice cream, so this rendition of the treat will serve me far better than the explosive variety.

My only objection is a tiny one -- it's a little *too* chunky. Usually, the bits are the good part, but in this case they almost succeed in getting in the way of the amazing ice cream. Still, a crunchy chocolate nuggest is hardly something to complain about.

My god, they'll have to bury me in a piano case...

My shoulders sag, too, as I remember the void left by PBMax. Peter, maybe you and I should have rationed that last Costco box even more stingily. Sigh.

My Hall of Fallen Frozen Flavors includes Ben & Jerry's White Russian, Aztec Harvest, and Chocolate Chunk.

Godiva's vanilla with chocolate caramel hearts has been my favorite of late, but fat and finance make it an infrequent pleasure.

Today I bought a box of Roy Rogers, Happy Trails Chocolates, and the memories of eating PB Max flooded into my head. The last time I ate a PB Max, I hid in my closet so I wouldn't have to share the divine taste with my siblings. I wanted to sit in my closet with the Roy Rogers Chocolates at work today. If you ever come across them definately try.

Just learned that Coney Island Waffle Cone is off the market. I am stunned. I'm mired deep in teh first stage of mourning - denial.

It was the perfect ice cream, a brilliant balance of vanilla caramel chocolate and cone. I might have to give up ice cream,becuase now there's nothing to look forward to. It's over. It's just over.

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