BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Gong Hey Fat Tuesday

If you’re looking for an excuse to celebrate, you needn’t look far. Before the glow of one jubilant holiday fete can fully fade from view, yet another occasion to rejoice arises from its ashes. Depending on which traditions you hold dear, you could easily keep the party going 365 days a year, without even delving into the more dubious list of unofficial observances. Keeping up with the standard routine is hard enough on an average day, but a calendar peppered at random with noteworthy events can become downright intimidating.

Mardi Gras and the Lunar New Year happen to fall on consecutive days this year, each arriving with a riot of colors, rituals, and lucky foods. Pressed for time and sufficient enthusiasm to properly honor both, I was suddenly struck by one unlikely common thread, uniting Creole and Chinese customs: Pancakes.

Fat Tuesday earns its moniker for all the indulgent edibles typically served during the festivities, particularly pancakes. Fluffy, flat, big, or small, every unique twist on the humble breakfast cake is welcomed with open arms- And a sticky pitcher of thick maple syrup. Less common but no less appreciated are savory renditions, ideal for balancing out the inevitable deluge of sugary sweets.

Chinese pancakes exemplify the pinnacle of pancake perfection for revelers craving salty snacks instead of desserts. Impossibly thin, flaky layers cradle flecks of green onion, just assertive enough to be heard above the baseline of nutty toasted sesame. Built upon the simplest of ingredients and just undeniably, apologetically rich, each narrow wedge tastes like a joyous carnival all by itself.

Clearly, it was high time for these two cultures to become acquainted.

Unexpected Cajun and Creole flavors infuse this time-honored dim sum addition, drawing bright citrus notes into the stratified dough itself. The real coup de gras, however, is delivered in the fiery dipping sauce. A cool and creamy base balances out a wide palate of spices, ranging from warming to immolating. Once blended and melded the resulting harmony of heat could easily become a new standby to accompany any cuisine.

Ala Madigra and Gong Hey Fat Choy!

Citrus-Scallion Pancakes with Dynamite Cajun Dipping Sauce

Dynamite Cajun Dipping Sauce:

1 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise, Homemade or Store-Bought
2 Tablespoons Sriracha
2 Tablespoons Fresh Cilantro, Finely Minced
1 Tablespoon Creole Seasoning
1 Teaspoon Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced

Citrus-Scallion Pancakes:

2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
6 – 8 Tablespoons Warm Water
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Scallions
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 – 5 Tablespoons Peanut Oil

To prepare the dipping sauce, simply mix everything together, adding sriracha to taste. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve, for up to two weeks.

For the pancakes, mix together the flour, 6 tablespoons of the warm water, lemon juice, and sesame oil in a large bowl. Stir until the liquid is absorbed, adding more water one teaspoon at a time as needed until the dough pulls away from sides of bowl. The goal is to create a cohesive, firm dough that is barely tacky to the touch.

Knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface for about 5 – 10 minutes, or until smooth. Cover with a moist towel for 20 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.

Meanwhile, take this opportunity to mix together scallions, garlic, lemon zest, and salt in a small bowl; set aside.

After resting, roll the dough into a skinny snake-like shape and cut into 20 equal pieces. Roll each segment into balls and keep covered with the towel.

Working with one small ball of dough at a time, place on a well-floured surface and roll into a circle approximately 4-inches in diameter. Brush liberally with peanut oil, sprinkle with 1 – 2 teaspoons of the scallion mixture, and roll the pancake up tightly like a rug. Curl the roll around in a spiral, pinch the end to seal, and flatten it back out into a very thin circle, about 1/8 of an inch in thickness. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.

Heat one tablespoon of peanut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Pan fry the pancakes, one or two at a time, until the bottom is golden brown and perfectly crisp. Keep warm in a low oven or slice into wedges, serving immediately alongside the dipping sauce.

Makes 20 Pancakes

Printable Recipe


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Hang Ten

Ten years. One decade.

It’s both an insignificant stretch of time, and an interminable one. It’s enough time to grow a productive (if petite) apple tree from seed; to grow a newborn into a certifiable tween. It’s more time than I ever thought I could devote myself to one single project, especially at the tender young age of 17. Clicking that now-familiar “publish” button for the very first time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Never one for the syrupy sweet prose nor navel-gazing of a self-congratulatory anniversary post, I want to simply, sincerely say thank you. YOU, for reading, whether it was from the awkward, ugly early days or just this very moment. It’s impossible to fathom all of the incredible people out there who have shaped my life up to this point, from the past 37,500 comments and counting. Life both online and off would look entirely different without every last line of text, even those who simply drop by to say “Yum!”

There’s nothing that could sufficiently express my gratitude, and so for weeks leading up to this moment, I was paralyzed with anxiety. How do I mark the occasion? How can I possibly repay these incredibly readers equal to the generosity they’ve shown me?

Quite frankly, I can’t.

I can only keep on writing, photographing, and sharing all the sordid details, for another 10 years or more- Only if you’ll be so kind as to indulge me.

Thank you.


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The Scarcity Fallacy

Well beyond the distraction of holiday merriment, winter stretches out as far as the eye can see, like an interminable ocean that surpasses the horizon. We’re in it for the long haul, no safe havens to moor our ships for the night, completely at the mercy of a historically mercurial season. No longer are we reliant on stockpiles of homemade preserves and canned goods, but fresh produce is considerably less diverse, or at least, anything grown nearby and worth eating offers fewer inspiring options. Even in balmy California, farmers market tables once straining under the weight of plump tomatoes and juicy peaches look comparatively sparse, bearing dusty tubers and hearty greens instead.

It’s a rough transition, no doubt about that, but great abundance can still be found even in the depths of winter. A far cry from the scarcity faced by the average cook only a few decades back, the danger isn’t that one might go hungry, but that one might go with a boring dinner. Oh, such terrible sacrifices we must make!

Instead of seeing what the local markets lack, it’s just as easy to see what they have to offer. With an open mind and a pinch of creativity, cravings that once seemed impossible to fulfill now appear ripe with potential for innovation.

Tabbouleh is a staple dish when the weather turns warm, the simplest combination of fresh ingredients that absolutely screams “summer!” in every refreshing bite. Tomatoes and parsley make up the foundation, with a handful of cracked wheat acting as the mortar holding everything together. It’s the kind of combination that needs no formal recipe, depending entirely on the strength of those bare components to shine. I’d never dream of making tabbouleh in winter, when only mealy pink tomatoes shipped halfway across the globe can be found rotting on grocery store shelves. No, not traditional tabbouleh…

…But I would make tabbouleh built with some crafty seasonal substitutions in mind. Bear with me, because I know that it’s not a natural leap to replace tomatoes with persimmons, but it makes perfect sense the moment you taste them in this light, leafy salad. Their juicy, meaty texture and natural sweetness add volumes of complexity to the basic composition, elevating the final product to a truly noteworthy side. Pomegranate arils follow to lend tart, crunchy bursts of flavor, echoing the bright lemon juice and balancing the bitter greens. Parsley could be the sole herbaceous element if you so desire, but in an homage to the abundance of root vegetables and in protest of food waste, I felt compelled to toss in those unloved green carrot tops that are all too often discarded, rather than savored as they should be.

Even the longest winter can feel far more manageable with a good supply of fresh, simple recipes on hand. There’s definitely a time and a place for the heavy soups and stews typically associated with the season, but a bit of lightness and brightness goes a long way when there’s no sun, and little local produce, to make up the difference.

Winter Tabbouleh

1/4 Cup Bulgur
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/2 Cup Vegetable Broth
1 Fuyu Persimmon, Peeled, Stemmed, and Chopped
1/3 Cup Pomegranate Arils (Optional)
1 1/2 Cups Carrot Tops, Minced
1 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced
2 Tablespoons Red Onion, Finely Chopped
2 – 3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 – 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

In a small saucepan, combine the bulgur wheat, turmeric, and vegetable broth, and place over low heat. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off the heat, and let stand for 15 – 20 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

Meanwhile, prepare the fruits and vegetables accordingly and toss together in a large bowl. Add the cooked bulgur when finished and slightly cooled, followed by the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, adding more or less according to personal preference.

Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the flavors to marry.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Silent Sunday: Let’s Do Brunch

Sanctuary Omelet from Sanctuary Bistro

Maple Baked Beans with Sunny Side Fried Tofu from Sanctuary Bistro

Ranchero Tofu Scram with Biscuits and Fruit from Urban Fish

Rosarita Scramble From Saturn Cafe

Socca Crepe from Grease Box

Sourdough Beignets with Prickly Pear-Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam from Millennium

Tofu Scramble with Hash Browns and Toast from Vault Cafe and Restaurant

Chickpea Frittata from Seed + Salt

“Like a Vegan” Ratatouille Crepe from Galette 88


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For the Love of Chocolate

Chocolate is a gift that is always in style, matches with everything you already own, and always fits. It should come as no surprise that it’s the Valentine’s Day token of choice, ranking well above the typical flowers, cards, and unintentionally tragic stuffed animals. Let’s keep it that way, and let’s keep it classy, folks. No dollar store mockolate to show your sweetheart how bad you are at planning ahead, please. Considering the explosion of high-quality options now on the market, there’s no excuse not to go the extra mile to seek out something special. Those efforts to find a truly transcendent box of cacao decadence will be repaid in full with just one bite.

Amore di Mona is part of the new wave of contemporary chocolatiers that stands apart from the rest. Committed to producing exceptional treats that can be enjoyed by all, every exquisite morsel they produce is vegan and gluten-free.

Even the gold wrapping and immaculate box of the Connoisseur Collection exudes opulence and indulgence. It’s clear from square one (no pun intended) that these are no average candies. Impeccably molded, dipped, and decorated, each piece glistens in the sunlight and snaps firmly under pressure. Seven entirely unique flavors are included in the assortment, ranging from solid chocolate hearts with various accouterments to dipped and drizzled caramels. Unsurprisingly, the chocolate itself is exceptional: Dry, smooth, intense dark chocolate, but not the least bit harsh, it’s very easy to eat without risking either palate fatigue or a sugar coma.

Finding good vegan caramels can still be challenging at best, but this box may very well end the search. Each “caramela,” as they are called, possesses a firm bite, soft chew, and subtly nutty, toasted sweet flavor. Although I must admit that I found myself craving a tiny extra pinch of salt at times, there’s really little to fault about the final execution. Favorites will only be a matter of preference, because you can do no wrong with any of the options. Pieces containing cranberries shine with tartness from the dried fruits, bitterness of the chocolate, and just the right amount of sugar to smooth out any hard edges. Meanwhile, those that incorporate whole coffee beans are predictably bold, in all the right ways; the coffee flavor never overwhelms, only delights with an extra crunchy texture.

Each morsel is a handcrafted work of edible art. Beautiful to look at, and even more enjoyable to eat. Valentine’s Day is a good excuse to spoil someone you love or simply yourself, but don’t forget that chocolate is always in season.


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Running Wild and in the Gnude

Never have I met a group of people more enthusiastic about an ominous forecast calling for relentless days of rain, varying from light mists to pounding torrents. After waiting with baited breath for the El Niño predicted to put all other storms to shame, the entire state of California seems to breathe a sigh of relief with every drop of moisture returning back to the parched earth. Cautious optimism prevents anyone from suggesting that our water woes are a thing of the past, or that reservoirs are even remotely close to normal levels yet, but the subject is no longer so fraught with doom and gloom, despite the lack of sun. We all know just how important these rains are to fortify all the local farms both big and small, responsible for producing no less than 99% of the entire country’s artichokes, walnuts, and kiwis, just for starters. What fewer are aware of is the positive impact the precipitation is having on a much smaller, less cultivated crop; mushrooms.

Mushroom foraging is a hit-or-miss affair, unpredictable in the best situations. Aside from the poisonous potential of picking the wrong fungus, the intrepid adventurer risks disappointment on every outing, no matter their level of expertise. Mushrooms love damp, but not cold, and cool, but not wet weather, which makes this season their time to shine. Springing forth under the cover of fallen leaves and the fallen trunks of trees, finding these edible treasures is like a grownup version of hide-and-go-seek, although the seeker doesn’t know exactly what might be hiding, complicating the game quite a bit. The good news is that as long as it doesn’t kill you, every mushroom has incredible culinary potential, stuffed to the gills with deep, nuanced, and entirely unique umami flavors, simply waiting to be unleashed.

Such a lavish assortment of wild mushrooms should be celebrated in dishes that will feature their savory character and meaty texture to the fullest.

Gnudi, best described as naked ravioli, also share similarities with gnocchi but are made with ricotta instead of potato. Simple in concept yet spectacular in execution, they’re like little cheesy pillows that practically melt in your mouth. Bound together with just enough flour to hold their shapes, these are nothing like the dense balls of dough one might otherwise encounter when attempting to eat traditional dumplings. In this case, tofu ricotta easily replaces the dairy foundation, transforming this savory dish into a light, dreamy, and yet impossibly rich indulgence. It’s all thanks to those humble mushrooms.

If you’re lucky enough to have the right terrain and ideal conditions, get out there while the fungus is good! For everyone else, hit up the nearest grocery store and start foraging through the produce aisle instead. It may not be so wild, but let’s be honest: Any mushroom will still be delicious.

Gnudi with Wild Mushrooms

Tofu Ricotta Gnudi:

1 Pound Extra-Firm Tofu, Thoroughly Drained and Rinsed
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Water
All-Purpose Flour*, to Coat

Sauteed Wild Mushrooms:

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Small Shallots, Finely Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Pound Fresh Wild (or Cultivated) Mushrooms (Such as Crimini, Oyster, Shiitake), Sliced
1 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
3/4 Cup Mushroom or Vegetable Broth
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Fresh Parsley, Minced

*For a gluten-free version, try using white rice flour or sorghum flour instead.

Crumble the tofu into a large bowl and add all the rest of the ingredients for the gnudi, except for the flour. Don’t be afraid to get dirty, because the best way to mix this is to get in there with your hands! Combine everything thoroughly, further breaking down the tofu so that no large chunks remain, and the overall texture of the mixture is something akin to smooth cottage cheese. Move the bowl into the fridge and chill for 15 – 30 minutes before proceeding.

Bring a large of water up to a gentle simmer. It’s very important that the water is not boiling, because the gnudi are too delicate to withstand that sort of violence. Using a small cookie scoop or two spoons, form the chilled gnudi mixture into about 24 balls, tossing them gently in flour to coat. Carefully slide 5 or 6 balls into the simmering water at a time to prevent the pot from getting too crowded. Simmer for 2 – 3 minutes, or until cooked through. Lift out with a slotted spoon and repeat with the remaining gnudi. The gnudi can be made in advance up to this point and kept for up to 4 hours in the fridge.

When ready to serve, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and sautée until golden brown. Introduce the sliced mushrooms, dried herbs, and broth next, cooking until softened and highly aromatic; about 5 minutes. Add the gnudi, gently tossing to incorporate and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until gnudi are heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with fresh parsley, and enjoy immediately.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe

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