BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Happy World Vegan Day!

What a time to be alive and veg-centric. Whereas otherwise progressive baristas would have laughed you right out of their cafes for requesting something so obscure as soymilk a scant few years ago, those very same establishments now offer not only soy, but almond and even coconut creamers as well. The tide is turning and finally, for the better. It’s safe to say that veganism has officially hit the mainstream, finding greater acceptance and understanding than ever before. World Vegan Day is a powerful reminder of just how far the movement as come, and in relatively short time; the term “vegan” is only 70 years old!

In spite of all the incredible progress we’ve seen recently, I don’t take the luxury of widespread vegan options for granted. It’s still a genuine surprise and delight to find esteemed chocolatiers advertising dairy-free truffles, steakhouses offering meatless options on their menus, or, in a more concrete example, finding a vegan chef doing a demo at the largest farmers market in San Francisco.

Recently, Kevin Schuder, chef of Citizen Fox, graced the stage that typically showcases all variety of animal products and broke the mold for this locavore audience. Deftly combining a mountain of vibrant green spinach with spices and an impossibly creamy cashew base, his take on paneer saag in dip format may very well have converted a few dairy addicts.

Having attended many similar performances alongside the bustling Embarcadero marketplace with nary a taste to be had, it was a delight to fearlessly wolf down that spinach-smeared piece of toasted baguette. Better than cream cheese and traditional spinach dip combined, the tangy base truly did evoke the gently acidic notes of paneer cheese, providing a rich foil to the mild greens.

Recipe in hand, I was only able to restrain myself from snatching a second helping knowing that I could make a full batch all for myself.

Saag Paneer Dip
By Kevin Schuder of Citizen Fox, made possible by CUESA

Saag Paneer Spice Blend
½ Cup Whole Coriander Seeds
¼ Cup Whole Cumin Seeds
3 Tablespoons Whole Cardamom Seeds (Removed from the Pods)
3 Tablespoons Whole Black Peppercorns
4 Teaspoons Whole Fennel Seeds
2 Teaspoons Whole cloves
2 Teaspoons Mustard Seeds
1 Teaspoon Ground Cayenne Pepper
1 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric

Spinach Dip
2 Pounds Spinach, Washed
1 Medium Yellow Onion
½ Cup Canola Oil
¼ Cup Minced Garlic
Salt
¼ Cup Saag Paneer Spice Blend (Above)
2-3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1½ Pounds Thick, Slightly Fermented Cashew Cream
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, if Desired

Grilled Bread, for Serving

To make the spice blend: Toast the whole spices in a skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, but not burned. Grind in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. Add the cayenne pepper and turmeric and mix together.

To make the dip: Blanch the spinach in salted boiling water, then chill in an ice bath. When cool, squeeze out excess moisture from the spinach and chop it finely. Julienne the onion and sauté in canola oil over medium heat. When softened and slightly caramelized, add the garlic and at least 1 tablespoon of salt, and sauté for another 2 minutes. Add at least 2 tablespoons or up to ¼ cup of the spice blend and all of the chopped spinach. After a minute, add the lemon juice and turn the heat up to high. Place the cashew cream in a medium bowl and add the hot spinach mixture, stirring rapidly to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, lemon, olive oil and/or saag paneer spice blend to taste. Slather the dip over grilled bread slices.

Makes About 12 Appetizer-Size Servings with Additional Spice Blend Leftover

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Oh My Gourd

It’s not hard to understand the appeal: syrupy-sweet, warmly spiced, and redolent of everyone’s favorite morning cup of Joe, pumpkin spice lattes have taken off for plenty of good reasons. Add in their limited seasonal availability, and you’ve got a legitimate craze on your hands. What I have trouble wrapping my mind around, on the other hand, is why this same flavor palate has spread like an annual autumnal infection across the food landscape, afflicting everything from breath mints to hummus to moonshine, and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. Don’t forget about the body care products, offering pumpkin spice lip balm to keep you in the pumpkin spice spirit even when you’re not actively consuming anything.

Pumpkin spice is a wonderful thing, but I think that I’m reaching flavor fatigue more rapidly than ever. At least, that was until I heard about the latest creation from Dandies

Well, I’ll eat my hat. Or another round of pumpkin spice treats, to be more accurate. A large part of this once humble seasoning’s success is truly its pervasiveness. No longer can it be ignored or avoided; one must either get on board, or get run over. Luckily, it’s no sacrifice to join the bandwagon with these mini marshmallows. Cinnamon leads in this well-balanced melange of spices, followed by more subtle notes of clove and ginger, but the blend is so successful that it’s truly a challenge to pick the individual notes apart. Soft, springy little pillows of fluff, they possess the very same delightful chew as the originals, but sport a dusty orange hue to complete the theme.

The temptation to plop a few of those miniature mallows straight into my steaming mug of coffee was strong, I must admit, but I managed to resist. Of course, I didn’t manage to resist shoveling two full bags into my mouth completely unadorned and in short order, but I’d like to think that there’s still more dignity in that approach, some how.

With my last remaining bag, I went into the kitchen and fired up the oven to do these morsels proper justice. As temperatures outside began to drop, the kitchen began to warm and fill with the heady aroma of brown sugar, toasted marshmallows, and yes, pumpkin spice.

Folded into a dense yet soft blondie batter enriched with a healthy dose of genuine pumpkin puree, most of the marshmallows seemed to melt while baking, but that’s not to say they disappeared. Leaving gooey pockets of sweetness, almost like a highly spiced caramel sauce, each void contained an incredible wealth of flavor.

The year, I implore you to leave the latte, but take the blondie. There’s no sense in fighting the incoming wave of pumpkin-treats this year, so we might as well make them count.

Pumpkin Spice Blondies

1 1/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup 100% Pumpkin Puree
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Aquafaba (Liquid from a Can of Chickpeas)
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Cup Dandies Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows, Divided
1/2 Cup Pepitas, Divided

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking powder, and salt. Add in 1/2 cup of the marshmallows and 1/3 cup of the pepitas. Toss to coat the mix-ins with the dry goods. This will help prevent them from all sinking to the bottom as the blondies bake.

In a separate bowl, mix together the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, oil, aquafaba, and vanilla, stirring until smooth. Once homogeneous, pour these liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry goods, stirring with a wide spatula just to combine. Be careful not to over-mix.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan, smoothing it out into an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining marshmallows and pumpkin seeds over the top, gently pressing them into the surface. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until the marshmallows are lightly browned, the batter no longer appears wet, and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out cleanly. The bars puff up quite a bit while baking, along with the toasted marshmallows on top, but never fear! They’ll fall back down to a normal size once cooled.

Let cool completely before slicing into square or bars. For the cleanest cuts, chill the whole slab for at least 15 minutes and use a very sharp knife to make easy work of that sticky marshmallow topping.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

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A Baker’s Fairytale

Once upon a time, in a kitchen far away, there lived a little baker. Day in and day out, the little baker would fire up the oven and punch out dough after dough, fearlessly conquering scores of wild yeasts within. All the villagers depended on the little baker to slay these fickle beasts, feeding the town and keeping it safe all in one deft thrust of the rolling pin. Years of practice rewarded the little baker with flawless, lofty loaves, perfectly soft and tender through every slice, until one fateful day when a stack of sad, half-eaten toast arrived at her doorstep along with a hastily scribbled note. Scrawled out in the uncertain, tilting print of a child, it read:

Go back to the old formula! We hate this new stuff. It tastes like wet cardboard and it’s so bad, even the jam slides right off in protest. Did you switch to GMO flour? Is it gluten-free? Whatever you’re doing differently, stop it!

The little baker was perplexed. The formula was the same as ever, simple but reliable, exactly as it had been when she first learned to tame the wild yeasts years ago. Perhaps it was the little baker that had changed. Growing weary after just the first few loaves, it became a struggle to keep the oven light on late into the night, as the wild yeasts grew restless and unruly. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, they were beating down the little baker’s spirit, draining her of all the magic it took to transform humble dough into delicious bread.

Crestfallen, the little baker mournfully shoveled the cold, abandoned toast into her mouth while whipping through every cabinet in the kitchen. Surely, there was a secret ingredient in here that could turn things around. The villagers all depended on her! Alas, nothing turned up; just the standard salt, sugar, and flour that had always been there remained in amply supply, and nothing more. The little baker retreated to her bed, falling heavily onto her pillow and immediately drifting into a strange dreamland…

Everywhere around the little baker, the air glittered with rainbow colors. What is this strange sorcery?, she wondered to no one in particular. It seemed to fill the entire room, invading her very pores, becoming a part of her. The little baker’s hands began to glow with a peculiar warmth, as though they were on fire.

The little baker woke with a start, panicked that morning had already broken and the daily bread still needed to be made. Had she gotten drunk on over-fermented yeast in that toast? No matter, there was a job to do, even if the magic was gone.

When the little baker stepped into the kitchen, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Sitting there on the counter, still slightly warm, was a golden brown loaf of bread. Surely, she would have remembered baking such a beautiful specimen, but the little baker was certain she went straight to sleep last night. It looked fairly humble, and yet there was definitely a different energy about it. The loaf hummed with potential.

Tentatively, the little baker wielded her sword-like bread knife and plunged it into the heart of this suspicious beast. As the first slice fell away, she gasped.

Swirled throughout the standard crumb, a rainbow of fairy dust had embedded itself into the loaf. Without missing a beat or stopping to lavish the bread with any sort of accouterments, the little baker hungrily devoured the first wedge in record time. Impossibly light yet satisfyingly chewy at the same time, it was a world apart from the sad, standard loaves she had churned out just the day prior. Sweet and slightly sticky in all the right ways, the fairy dust within didn’t taste of a rainbow, but it possessed an undeniably enchanting power, elevating the unremarkable baked good into something positively spellbinding. How it happened, where it came from- The little baker hadn’t the slightest clue, but it filled her with a new, indefatigable zest, impassioned once more to reproduce this miracle.

Even though the little baker never did discover the source of the fairy dust, nor create another loaf quite so otherworldly, her breads once more began to rise to the occasion; filled not with magic, but simply the little baker’s passion, the bread never tasted better.

(This loaf was inspired by fairy toast, and created in celebration of the 10th annual World Bread Day.)

World Bread Day 2015 (October 16)

Fairy Swirl Bread

1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 – 3 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour

1/2 Cup Rainbow Sprinkles

In a small saucepan, combine the non-dairy milk and sugar over medium heat. Warm the mixture gently, bringing the temperature up no higher than 110 degrees; exceed that, and the poor yeast will all be killed instantly. Aim for around 100 degrees or just warm to the touch, turn off the heat, and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it sit and become bubbly; about 5 minutes.

Pour the yeast mixture into your stand mixer with the dough hook installed, and introduce the oil and vanilla as well. Add in the wheat gluten, salt, and 3 cups of the flour. Start the mixer on low speed to combine, allowing a few minutes for the dough to begin coming together. If it seems excessively wet, go ahead and add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until it mostly pulls off the sides of the bowl and feels tacky but not sticky. Let the dough hook knead it for about 10 minutes before scraping it out, kneading it briefly by hand, and shaping it into a smooth, elastic ball. Drop the ball of dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for about two hours in a warm place.

The dough should more than double in volume, at which point you’re ready to punch it down and shape it. Lightly flour a clean surface and turn the dough out onto it. Either use your hands or a rolling pin to press it out into a rectangle. The most important dimension to keep in mind is the width, so that the final loaf fits comfortably inside the pan. Keep it around 8 – 8 1/2 inches on two sides, but roll it out as long and thin as possible. You may want to let the dough rest and relax periodically to stretch it even further. The longer you can make the dough, the more impressive the final swirl will be.

Scatter the sprinkles evenly over the entire surface of the dough except for an inch of one of the shorter sides. Starting at the fully sprinkled end, roll it up as if you were making cinnamon buns and pinch the finishing edge closed. Lightly grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pan, and drop the rolled dough into it, seam side down. Cover and let rise again, for about an hour, or until the loaf is almost peeking out above the rim of the pan.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Once the loaf is risen and ready, tent very loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil at this point, drop the temperature down to 350 degrees, and bake for a final 5 – 10 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let it rest in the pan for 10 – 15 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack. Cool completely before you even think about slicing it, no matter how incredible it smells. Trust me, your slices will be much more fluffy (and less smeared with molten sprinkle filling) with just a little bit of patience!

Makes 1 Loaf

Printable Recipe


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Rawkstar Apple Pie

It’s one thing to follow a recipe, trying to imitate the work of a talented chef, and quite another to enjoy their interpretation straight from the source. At best, you might be able to seek out a particular restaurant, but even then, it’s unlikely that the chef will actually be in the kitchen, carefully chopping the onions or searing the tofu destined for your plate. That’s why it was such a treat to see Chef Lisa Brooks-Williams herself in action, demonstrating a selection of her inspiring raw dishes.

Chef Lisa wears many hats, working as a personal chef, caterer, and teacher throughout the bay area. Committed to proving how easy a healthful, vegan diet full of whole foods can be, her raw apple pie is a perfect example of how flavor and nutrition are seamlessly combined into one crowd-pleasing dessert. Sweet but not saccharine, spices emphasize the natural autumnal essence of the apples, complemented by a creamy cashew sauce. Although the timing is perfect for the upcoming holiday season, I wouldn’t hesitate to whip one up any time of year.

Lisa’s Raw Apple Pie with Almond Crust and Maple Cream
Adapted from Chef Lisa Brooks-Williams

Crust:

2 Cups Raw Almonds
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
10 Pitted Dates
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Water
1 Tablespoon Coconut Sugar (Optional)

Apple Pie Filling:

2 Pounds Fuji or Gala Apples, Quartered and Cored
2 Pears, Peeled and Cored
2 Tablespoons Ground Psyllium Husk
2/3 Cup Dried Currants or Raisins
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

Maple Cream:

2 Cups Raw Cashews, Soaked for 2 Hours and Drained
1/2 Cup Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Cup Water
1 Whole Vanilla Bean
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Pinch Salt

For the crust, place the almonds, cinnamon, and salt in the food processor and pulse until the nuts are ground. Add dates and coconut sugar (if using) and pulse once more until the dates are finely chopped and incorporated. Add 1/2 teaspoon water or more for a moister crust, if desired. Set aside. Note: Moister crusts are easier to press into a pie plate or pan. However, a more crumbly consistency works better for this recipe.

For the filling, place the apples in the (rinsed and dried) food processor and pulse until chopped into small pieces. You may need to process your apples in two separate batches, depending on the size of your food processor. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Place the pears, salt, spices, and vanilla extract in the food processor and blend until completely smooth. Pour the pear sauce over the chopped apples. Add the psyllium husk and currants, stirring gently to makes sure all the ingredients are incorporated. Allow the mixture to rest for 20 minutes to gel.

For the maple cream, place the entire vanilla bean, cut into smaller pieces, into the blender along with the water and maple syrup. Process until the vanilla bean is completely broken down. Add the soaked cashews, spices, and salt, and blend until completely smooth and creamy. Add more water if the consistency is too thick.

To assemble, press the crust into a pie pan or casserole dish to make more traditional slices, or crumble into individual serving glasses to make parfaits. Spoon the filling on top, and finish each serving with a dollop of maple cream. For a full pie, chill thoroughly for at least two hours for best results when slicing.

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Oregon’s Got Talent

Nestled into the mountainous terrain of southern Oregon resides a town often praised for its close proximity to other cities. Ashland, home of quite possibly the longest running and most prolific Shakespeare festival in the US, is a mere ten-minute drive away, and Medford, large enough to support its very own Airport, is another bustling metropolis within easy reach. Talent, Oregon may not have one particular claim to fame nor pop up on most travel guides of the Pacific North West, but after spending a few days in the 1.33 square miles that over 6,000 residents call home, it seems a shame to overlook this hidden gem.

If for nothing else, it’s worth stopping in for some rest and relaxation on Shady Grove Farm. Established by Husband and Wife Lynn and Lin, it’s a sanctuary for animals and humans alike. Make no mistake, it’s not just a place to stay, but a full vacation in and of itself. Stay in one of the many rooms available, from a studio with a complete kitchen, to a cozy tent by the fire for “glamping,” and you’ll immediately realize that you’re truly a guest in the Bernhardts’ home.

Tempting as it may be to sleep in every morning, the promise of Lin’s breakfast is a good reason to greet the day. As a vegan and talented cook, I’ve never eaten so well or so richly for the first meal of the day; tofu scramble enchiladas, smothered in a mild green hatch chile sauce. Cooking intuitively, when plied for a recipe, she offered that the real secret to success for this dish was a light veneer of Vegenaise lavished across the tortillas, providing moisture and flavor in one fell swipe.

Even when I professed my love for plain old oatmeal, Lin managed to create a bowlful fit for a king. Lavished with fresh strawberries and complimented by brown sugar, peach chutney, and sweet oat milk, each of the homemade condiments elevated the steel-cut grains to a new level. After that experience, it would be impossible to go back to instant.

If you’re really lucky, before you go off gallivanting around the farm to explore the organic garden or help feed the chickens, Lin just might gift you with a handful of her homemade chocolate chip cookies. No matter how stuffed you are after breakfast, when faced with these soft and chewy treats, it always seems perfectly reasonable to follow it up with a sweet morning snack.

Though it feels like an oasis in the countryside, you’re far from stranded when staying at the farm. Main Street is a short walk away, and while it may boast only a dozen businesses or so, there’s a surprising wealth of fine dining to be found. Even on Sunday evening when all other eateries were closed, The Grotto turned out to be a lucky find. Happy to accommodate hungry vegans, it was no problem to forgo the cheese on any of their myriad pizza offerings, and the promise of an unlimited salad bar is always music to my ears. Don’t overlook the beers and tap, either- A crisp glass of pear cider made this meal into something truly special.

If there’s only one opportunity to eat out, however, I would insist that you pay a visit to Harvest Restaurant. Don’t bother consulting the menu, but call ahead and alert the kitchen that you would like a vegan entree. State your budget, and be prepared for an unforgettable meal. Working with whatever fresh, local, and organic produce is on hand, the chef works magic to craft incredible meatless mains right on the spot. I was amazed at the tower of caramelized onion farro, grilled squash, beets, and chanterelle mushrooms, and crisp fried potatoes that greeted me at the table. Rather than finding dietary restrictions an imposition, the chef gamely takes on any requests, claiming that it’s like a real-life version of Iron Chef that he genuinely relishes. For dessert, sorbet was already on the menu, and the bright, honey-like cantaloupe flavor made for an idea finish to this impeccable dinner.

I had always seen myself more as a city gal, drawn to the daily hustle and bustle like a moth to the light, but this trip had me reconsidering that notion… This beautiful slice of country life seems like the perfect antidote to the common urban commotion.

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