BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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For Every Bird a Nest [of Kale]

For every Bird a Nest –
Wherefore in timid quest
Some little Wren goes seeking round –

Wherefore when boughs are free –
Households in every tree –
Pilgrim be found?

Perhaps a home too high –
Ah Aristocracy!
The little Wren desires –

Perhaps of kale so fine –
Of leafy greens e’en superfine,
Her pride aspires –

The Lark is not ashamed
To build upon the ground
Her modest house –

Yet who of all the throng
Dancing around the sun
Does so rejoice?

[Ever so slightly adapted from] Emily Dickinson


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Food is the Best Remedy

I’ve made no secret of my distaste for “cleanses,” a concept that merely sounds like a thin guise for a more modern interpretation of the classic crash diet. The theory goes that this stringent regimen of fruit and vegetable juices will clean out the digestive system, remove unspecified toxins, and fill the participant with vital nutrients that are otherwise difficult to assimilate through whole foods. Though it may typically lead to weight loss in the short term, any victories over the scale are short lived, as it’s mostly water weight or the result of nothing more than a simple calorie deficit. These attractive quick fixes are impossible to sustain, and every pound is sure to come right back when the devoted juicer returns to their prior eating habits.

That all said, how on earth did I find myself joining forces with Urban Remedy, a company known to push that very dogma, with their rainbow-colored juices packed into attractive plastic bottles? Thankfully, Urban Remedy is a company that believes in choice, and understands that health is not a one size fits all deal, offering so much more than just liquid sustenance. Healthy prepared foods will always be attractive for those crazy days when just throwing together a salad sounds like a demanding task, and having their array of fresh, ready to eat options is an absolute luxury. I was lucky enough to be treated to a few samples of these clean eating options, in addition to their better known line of juices. Just because cleansing is not for me, I won’t begrudge anyone who truly finds it beneficial, but I’m quite happy to cherry-pick the very best drinks as supplements to my daily diet, treating them as snacks and treats along with my daily eats.

Tell me, does this look like a feast or what? Between the Shredded Kale Salad, Zen Salad, and Cauliflower Tabbouleh, I was positively spoiled for choice come lunchtime. That pesky midday meal can sometimes get neglected on my busiest photo shoot days, turning into a few harried bites here and there, so having some truly satisfying sustenance on hand was a greater treat that I can fully describe. As someone who always does all of the cooking, having anyone make a meal for me, no matter how simple, feels like pure extravagance. Best of all, this indulgence is one that comes with no guilt, only pleasure. What impressed me the most was how fresh everything tasted. I would have never thought that anything arriving in a shipping crate could hold a candle to something pulled straight from my fridge, but there was no sad, wilted lettuce or mushy vegetables here. The dressings are packed separately to keep everything crisp, adding a bright, tangy taste only when the time is right. I was especially impressed with the raw cauliflower tabbouleh, each bite leading with lemon flavor and accented with cumin. It’s the kind of side dish that I wouldn’t hesitate to serve to a crowd- If I could be convinced to share, that is.

Before you start thinking that this is still another austere menu of only greens and veggies, I would implore you to check out their ample selection of snacks and desserts. Of the treats that I was lucky enough to sample, the Crème Caramel stands out in my mind as a particularly decadent departure from your standard “healthy” dessert. Thick and silky smooth, the texture was absolutely luscious, bearing a deep, rich, earthy caramel flavor that was accentuated with a touch of salt. Crunchy caramelized almonds added textural interest that made this grand finale particularly irresistible. Those fudgy Almond Brownies are not to be overlooked though; super soft, immediately yielding to the most timid of nibbles, the rich cacao squares effortlessly melt in your mouth.

Without hesitation, I would recommend Urban Remedy to anyone who wants to kick-start a healthy eating program or squeeze in some real nourishment on a busy schedule. Such delicious convenience does come at a price though, which will unfortunately be the single factor preventing me from ordering regularly. Happily, for a limited time, you can snag a discount off your order by entering the code FallSpecial at checkout for 15% off $150, 20% off $225 or 25% off $300 or more. Whether you’re into the concept of cleanses or not, you’ll want to take advantage of this opportunity; this unrivaled marriage of flavor and nutrition is worth every cent.


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Pop It Like It’s Hot

Freshly fallen leaves have settled in crispy piles everywhere the eye can see, while cooler breezes have swept away the summer heat so thoroughly and completely, it’s hard to believe we ever faced such oppressive temperatures. For most people, this shift tends to evoke thoughts of apples, pumpkins, and mulled wine, but for me, this time is inextricably linked with a craving for popcorn, of all things. Popcorn was never a part of any particular seasonal traditions in my childhood, nor was it reserved only for specific times of year, but something about the colder weather and advancing calendar days makes me crave the crunchy stuff. Best of all is the sweet and salty combination of kettle corn, packing in a more satisfyingly crispy texture than plain old Jiffy Pop.

There’s just one self-imposed rule to my annual popcorn cravings: Never pop the same flavors twice. This year, I was inspired by a recent taste of sriracha popcorn, a delightfully fiery little snack that delivered a nice, warm burn with every bite. What it lacked was balance, and all I could do was dream of how much better the concept could be executed with just a bit of sweetness to round things out… At least, until I got into the kitchen for myself.

Like standard kettle corn, these sweet, salty, and spicy little morsels couldn’t be easier or faster to whip up. Whether it’s a sudden craving that strikes or a house full of hungry guests to accommodate, you can’t go wrong with this crowd-pleasing treat. Adjust the sriracha to taste, depending on just how hot you like it.

Sriracha Kettle Corn

3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1/2 Cup Popcorn Kernels
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
3 – 5 Teaspoons Sriracha
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Flaky Sea Salt

Heat the coconut oil in a large stockpot over medium heat, along with two or three kernels. Keep covered, and when the first few kernels pop, go ahead and add in the rest, along with the sugar and sriracha. Stir well to coat before quickly covering with the lid once more. Shake the pot constantly and vigorously to prevent your corn from burning. This is critical for even cooking and fewer “dead” (unpopped) kernels as well.

Once the popping has slowed to one every two to three seconds, remove the pot from the heat and uncover, continuing to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped. Pour the popcorn out onto a sheet pan and sprinkle evenly with salt, to taste. Let cool and break up the large clumps, picking through to remove any unpopped popcorn kernels that might remain.

Makes 8 – 10 Cups Popcorn

Printable Recipe


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Bread Meets Spread

“Have you heard of HUMMUS?” you might ask of a caveman recently unearthed after a million-year marathon nap. Now as ubiquitous as ketchup or salsa, hummus has managed to surpass all cultural boundaries, weaving its way into the homes and hearts of food lovers worldwide. What might be a more relevant question in this day and age is “Have you heard of MASABACHA?” Hummus’s lesser-know cousin should rank just as highly on the snacking scale, and yet somehow lacks the same renown, barely registering as a blip on the radar. Depending on your circle of friends, it might also be referred to as msabbaha, musabbaha, or even mashausha. Consider it deconstructed hummus, replete with whole chickpeas and a tangy lemon tahini sauce to bind them all together. From that base, the sky’s the limit; fancier, more fun renditions include everything from pine nuts and paprika to a smattering of herbs and hard-boiled eggs. When you can choose your own adventure with such savory results, what’s not to love about this chunky chickpea dip?

Although I would never be so bold as to say that there’s room to improve on the classic, I would venture to suggest that there’s always room to innovate. Instead of serving up the tried and true masabacha with bread and the standard accoutrements, let’s skip the middleman and combine the whole array of irresistible flavors. Bean-based bread is nothing new, but this particular yeast-risen loaf is a veritable ode to the humble legume, employing both chickpea flour and whole, seasoned and roasted garbanzo beans. Richly spiced with cumin, coriander, and my current favorite, smoked paprika, the aroma that engulfs the kitchen as it bakes is positively maddening. Just try not to tear into the hot, freshly baked loaf right away- it genuinely does improve with just a bit of patience. The spices take their sweet (and savory) time to mingle and for them to reach their collective peak of flavor, so it’s important to sit by and let it cool completely before diving in.

It is with great pleasure that I’m sharing this magnificent baked good in honor of the 9th Annual World Bread Day. I haven’t missed a single celebration since the birth of BitterSweet, and I don’t intend to sit out for one yet! Although I hate picking favorites amongst recipes, this entry definitely ranks highly on my list of most crave-worthy submissions thus far. Be sure to check out the roundup coming in the next few days for more yeasted inspiration.

World Bread Day 2014 (submit your loaf on October 16, 2014)

Masabacha Bread

3 Cups White Whole Wheat or All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Chickpea Flour
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
1 Packet Dry Active Yeast
1 1/4 Cups Warm Water
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Tahini
1 Cup Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas, Store-Bought or Homemade
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts

Mix together both flours with all of the herbs and spices in a large bowl. Separately, whisk together the agave, salt, yeast, warm water, oil, and tahini. Once fully blended, let the mixture stand briefly until the yeast reawakens, becoming active and frothy. pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and mix well. Now would be a great time to pull out the dough hook attachment on your stand mixer if you have one, but no matter your equipment, stir thoroughly to bring the dough together with no remaining dry patches. The resulting dough should be fairly soft, but continue to knead it until smooth, elastic, and somewhat tacky; about 15 – 20 minutes by hand or 10 – 15 minutes by hook, with the mixer on the lowest setting.

Lightly grease a large, clean bowl. Shape your kneaded dough into a smooth ball before dropping it in, rolling it around lightly to coat it with the oil. Cover loosely and and let it rest in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in volume. This could take anywhere from 45 minutes – 1 1/2 hours, depending on your climate.

Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan and set aside. Once properly puffy, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and use your knuckles to gently work through the air bubbles. Add in the chickpeas and pine nuts, kneading the whole loaf until the goodies are completely worked in and well-distributed. Work the dough into a rough rectangle no wider than the length of your pan, and roll the dough up into a neat cylinder. Place the dough log into the pan, seam side down, and let rest for another 30 – 60 minutes, until approximately doubled in size, or until it’s peeking about 1/4-inch over the rim of the pan. While you’re waiting, begin preheating your oven to 400 degrees.

When the loaf is fully risen and the oven has reached the proper temperature, slide the pan into the oven. Immediately drop the heat down to 375 degrees and bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until deeply golden brown all over. Let cool in the pan for about 10 – 15 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. No matter the temptation, all it to come all the way down to room temperature before slicing and enjoying.

Makes 1 Loaf

Printable Recipe


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Wordless Wednesday: San Francisco Treats

Vanilla Soy Frozen Yogurt at Fraiche

Like a Vegan (Ratatouille Crepe) at Galette 88

Charlie Brown’s Nightmare (Chocolate Soy Ice Cream with Peanut Butter and Cookies) at Holy Gelato!

Vegan Deep Dish at Patxi’s Pizza

Onigilly Set with Shiitake, Hijiki, and Natto Onigiri at Onigilly

The Curried Veg Pasty at The Pie Shop


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Muchas Gracias

Singling out one favorite meal from my summertime jaunt around the 7 x 7 mile peninsula known as San Francisco would be an impossible task. Small but densely populated with more restaurants per square mile than people, or so it often appeared, even the most voracious adventurer could eat out for every meal of the day, and still never come close to exhausting their options. Picking the few gems out from the large swath of mediocre, adequate, or downright disappointing establishments, however, is a far easier task. Gracias Madre ranks very high on my list of keepers, laying claim to one of the top 5 meals I’ve eaten all year, coast to coast.

As part of the Cafe Gratitude empire and having recently expanded to a Los Angeles outpost, it’s likely that even far-flung readers who never plan to visit California have still heard of this storied establishment. It had been on my radar for years, but it had always been buried too deep within the Mission district to warrant a trek, or too busy to afford the wait. At last, the cards we stacked in my favor: It was a perfect, blue-sky day in July, warm enough to suit up with only a light jacket, and the company was unbeatable. Plus, she came with a car.

Sitting in the enclosed porch, we enjoyed a gentle breeze as dappled sunlight filtered in across our table, and a procession of savory delights began to grace our presence. Coconut Ceviche had been at the top of my “must try” list, simply because I had never seen nor tasted such a thing before. Could this tropical fruit really approximate something more oceanic in nature? Long story short: No. However, the flavors rendered from this unlikely combination are from a world beyond that expected flavor palate, elevating the dish into something entirely new. Truth be told, my one criticism was that I wanted more coconut! Each bite was dominated by rich, luscious avocado flesh instead, but that’s hardly something to complain about. Paired with sturdy, freshly fried but utterly grease-free tortilla chips, I could have been perfectly happy to make a meal of this appetizer alone.

But one could hardly turn a blind eye to the rest of the alluring menu. We ordered lavishly, accumulating far more food than any two people should reasonably consider eating for lunch, and yet not a scrap remained at the end of the meal. The Pozole, brought to the table in a great plume of steam, was not something I would have requested unprompted, but it turned out to be a top pick that day. A medley of vegetables and tender hominy mingled in a soothing, tomato-based and slightly spicy broth, topped with a thorny crown of thin tortilla strips. The balance of ingredients was pure poetry, a soup far greater than the sum of its parts.

Our final requests for the day came out in a flurry of small plates. Elote, a classic, beautifully simple preparation of grilled corn and Mexican cheese, has always been out of reach due to the dairy component, so it was a true pleasure to finally sink my teeth into that cashew cheese-smeared cob. The smoky, toasted kernels were perfectly cooked, plump and lightly charred, but the real star was that cashew crema. Upon asking the chef what magic went into such an ethereal condiment, he graciously laid out the entire recipe for us. Ready with you paper and pencil? Here’s how it goes down: Soak a bunch of cashews over night. Drain them. Add a bit of ancho chili, salt and black pepper, and blend them with a splash of fresh water until silky smooth. And that’s all he wrote.

Simple Greens Con Chile y Ajo were easily a step above your average sauteed kale, sparkling with crisp pepitas and carefully applied touches of spice. Always well seasoned but never hot, per se, these small touches proved the true finesse of the kitchen. Escabeche, pickled vegetables, rounded out our midday feast with a pleasing salty side, but were largely an unnecessary accoutrement to this lavish spread.

While I’m not about to start picking favorites, I will say that Gracias Madre is easily near the top of my hit list. If you’re ever in town, consider if your duty as an eater of any dietary designation to try it out at least once.

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