BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Frozen Corn is the Cure

Gathering up my bags and grocery list, I stepped out of my enclosed oasis of air conditioning and into the midday sun. Slamming the car door shut and turning to go, I suddenly found myself caught. It wasn’t unusual to find my shirt, or purse, or even hair entangled in a closed door, but when I looked down to the source, I was unprepared for what I saw. Oh… Shit was the only clear thought that passed through my mind upon discovering that it was, in fact, my right thumb being held captive, fully enclosed in the not only latched, but locked car door.

Forget about that quick, routine grocery run. Although it took a moment for the pain to register, it roared into clarity the moment I finished fumbling to extricate myself. Gritting my teeth and marching into the store, passing through the produce and going straight to the freezer aisle, I grabbed the first thing I found that might stop the swelling: Corn. Nature’s first aid, frozen corn, in all of its icy glory. Of course, I still completed my shopping, the bag of frozen corn draped stiffly around my mangled digit.

No bones were broken and miraculously, no blood was spilled, but the thumb remains black and angrily inflamed well beyond its usual size even five days later. Traditional pain killers have proven ineffective at best, incapacitating at worst, and so at the end of the day, I find myself curled up in bed with yet another bag of frozen corn wrapped around my smashed finger. It’s the only thing that brings any modicum of relief.

All of that is to say that I have found myself with a considerable stock pile of corn, both frozen and fully thawed after serving as overnight ice packs. Giving their all for the cause, these kernels exhaust their typically toothsome structure along with their magical healing qualities, making for some rather mushy bags of corn pulp in the morning. Sending them off in a blaze of glory, the best way I’ve found to appreciate the service of these vegetables is in a golden puree of rich, summery soup.

The term velouté typically refers to a silky-smooth sauce, but in this case, it was the only term that seemed sufficient to describe the creamy, luscious texture of such a full-bodied soup. Thickened not with added starches, gums, or flours, its the bulk of the corn itself that creates this winsome quality. It’s a good thing I’m so fond of this blend, served both piping hot and thoroughly chilled, because it looks like there will still be a lot more where that came from… At least until my thumb is on the mend.

Roasted Corn Velouté

1/4 Cup Olive Oil, Divided
5 Cups Corn Kernels (Thawed if Frozen)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Small Onion, Diced
4 Small Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Medium Yellow Pepper, Diced
3 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the corn, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper, tossing until the corn is evenly coated. Spread the corn mixture out evenly on a large baking sheet. Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring at the 10 minute mark, until the kernels look lightly toasted.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan and begin to saute the onion. Introduce the garlic and yellow pepper next, stirring frequently, until all of the vegetables are golden brown around the edges. Add in 3 cups of the vegetable stock along with the lemon juice and 4 cups of the roasted corn, and let everything simmer gently for 15 – 20 minutes.

Transfer everything into a blender and thoroughly puree, until perfectly smooth. Add cayenne pepper to taste, and the final cup of vegetable stock if you’d prefer a thinner texture. Stir in the remaining cup of roasted corn before serving.

Makes 4 – 5 Servings

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Veni, Vidi, Videri

Why do people save the best for last? As one of those people, I’m not sure I can fully explain the compulsion to leave the very best bite for the end of the meal, or my favorite song for the end of a playlist. This very same impulse to delay gratification seems to get me in trouble at times, particularly when the end is not something clearly defined. Such is the case for many product reviews, languishing on my to-do list simply because the item in question was so good, I want to reserve it as a final reward. In realistic terms though, this just means that the post never gets written because an active blog never ends. That’s the only excuse I can come up with for explaining why these stellar chocolates remained without a proper feature for over two years.

Packaged lovingly with handwritten, individual numbers, one could easily mistake these for jewelry boxes rather than containers for edible treats. Crafted in small batches in Raleigh, North Carolina, Videri is one of the few American bean-to-bar operations. Not all of the offerings are vegan, but the dairy-free options will not leave you wanting. Defined by a clean, crisp snap and smooth melting texture, even a small square promises to satisfy the most voracious chocoholic.

Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt is an instant winner. Large flakes of salt are easily visible on the underside of each bar, immediately hitting the tongue with a strong saline hit. This serves to balance out the overall sweetness beautifully, while eliminating any bitter notes typically associated with dark chocolate.

Classic Dark Chocolate with 70% cacao is the everyday sort of treat that goes well with everything. Slightly woodsy with notes of raisin, the complexity packed into this little bar reminded me of tasting a fine wine.

90% Ecuadorian Dark Chocolate is a seasonal special, and one that you’ll definitely want to take advantage of while you still can. Dry, with a pleasantly bitter edge and slightly tannic aftertaste, this bold bar is not for the timid. Crushing sugar cravings without piling on the sweetness, these powerful chocolates became my secret weapon for vanquishing a snack attack.

Gifted with this wealth of cacao goodness, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take them into the kitchen for a bit of sweet experimentation. Especially in the heat of summer, peppermint patties are one of my favorite treats. Best stashed in the freezer for full cooling effect, I love the way the chocolate shell shatters upon impact, revealing a soft, creamy center with minty fresh flavor. The only thing that could be improved is perhaps the ratio of chocolate to peppermint, which is why I decided to flip the classic patty inside-out. Now, a solid chocolate center is graced by a blanket of white peppermint coating, allowing the chocolate to truly shine.

Inside-Out Peppermint Patties

Chocolate Centers:

6 Ounces 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup

Mint Coating:

1/2 Cup (4 Ounces) 100% Cocoa Butter
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/8 Teaspoon Peppermint Oil

To form the centers, place the chopped chocolate and corns syrup in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for about 60 seconds. Stir vigorously, and continue to heat at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well each time, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and refrigerate until set; about 1 hour.

Roll the chocolate disk out to about 1/4-inch thick and use 1-inch round cookie cutters to punch out the candy pieces. Should the chocolate dough become too soft or difficult to work with, just toss it back in the fridge for another 15 – 30 minutes before proceeding. Once all of the center are cut, stash them in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before getting to work on the coating.

Place your cocoa butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 – 3 minutes, so that it completely liquefies. Whisk in the confectioner’s sugar and mint oil, stirring vigorously to make sure that everything is completely dissolved.

Pull out your semi-frozen patties and dip each into the mint coating, one at a time. Place them back on the silpat, allowing the coating to set. This top coat is thinner than the standard pure chocolate shell, so you may wish to double-dip once the first layer has solidified.

Makes 30 – 34 Patties

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Making Prepared Meals Personal

As a father of two young boys and a busy entrepreneur living in San Francisco, no one understands the daily struggle of getting nutritious, satisfying meals on the table better than Jesse Miner. Inspired by the desire to find a balance between family time, work, and conscious eating in his own life, Jesse applies that very same motivation to his in-home personal chef service. Offering plant based meal plans, cooking classes, and catering for special events, he’s been perfecting his skills over many years of success, to unanimously rave reviews of happy customers.

During the six years that Chef Jesse contributed recipes to VegNews magazine, I had the great fortune of getting to know him and his culinary delights by way of freelance photo assignments. Although I was still the one preparing the dishes and styling them to look “camera ready”, it was easy to taste the skill that went into developing these remarkably nuanced flavor profiles. I will never forget the epic dill-infused savory waffles paired with beet compote, for example. That is what my breakfast-in-bed dreams are made of, to this day.

Having the opportunity to finally eat food directly from the master, at long last, was one of the highlights of my recent trip to the bay area.

Drawing global inspiration from his worldly travels, Korean lettuce wraps radiate warmth from a generous coating of spicy gochujang. Sticky rice is the platform for those sultry soy curls and the whole bundle gets wrapped up in crisp lettuce leaves, creating a fun eating experience for any day of the week. While these components may take a considerable amount of planning and labor to bring together, Jesse does all the heavy lifting here, delivering each element packed with care and ready to go.

A hearty bowlful of this Italian chickpea stew would be a satisfying one-dish meal on its own, but delicate stalks of garlicky broccolini and lightly grilled polenta triangles turn the whole mix into a truly show-stopping dinner. Polenta is something I rarely think to prepare for myself, so it was a real treat to get Jesse’s rendition as a delicious reminder.

Jesse’s own description of this fresh composition reads like soft core food porn. “Plump red strawberries mingle with crunchy golden brown hazelnuts, crisp pink and purple-hued radishes and delicate baby greens in this colorful salad.” This deceptively simple combination of vegetables, fruits, and nuts positively bursts with fresh flavors. It’s a side dish that won’t play second fiddle to any main course, without overpowering the other bit players.

Generously offering a small taste of his work for those not lucky enough to reside in San Francisco to take advantages of his services, Jesse has provided the secret formula. It showcases his skill at balancing flavors and textures, while keeping the end results remarkably uncomplicated.

Strawberry, Radish and Mixed Greens Salad with Candied Hazelnuts and Miso Dressing
By Chef Jesse Miner

Candied hazelnuts
1 cup hazelnuts
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt

Miso Dressing
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Salad Ingredients
8 cups mixed baby greens
1 bunch easter egg radishes, thinly sliced
1 pint strawberries, de-stemmed and sliced

1. Heat your non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. Add hazelnuts to the pan and dry toast, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown and skins flake off, approximately 10 minutes. Pour toasted hazelnuts into a bowl. Once hazelnuts have cooled to the touch, rub them between your fingers to remove and discard as much of the skins as possible. Heat your non-stick sauté pan once again over medium heat. Return skinned roasted hazelnuts to the pan along with the maple syrup, olive oil and salt. Stir to combine and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid boils and reduces to thick syrup evenly coating the hazelnuts, approximately 5 minutes. Spread hazelnuts into a single layer on a parchment-lined plate and cool at room temperature. Once completely cooled, break apart and store hazelnuts in an airtight container until serving.

3. Whisk together white miso, rice vinegar, grapeseed oil, agave nectar and sesame oil.

4. Toss greens and radish slices with miso dressing and divide between plates. Garnish each salad with strawberries and candied hazelnuts.

Makes 6 Servings

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Instant Ice Cream Gratification

The only thing worse than suffering through a sweltering hot summer day without air conditioning is trying to survive those same conditions without any ice cream in the house. It’s entirely possible that one can make do without such convenient modern amenities that would help abate the heat, but only if generous amounts of frozen, creamy treats are kept close at hand. Ice cream makes even chilly days more bearable, so going without a single tub of the cool confection is tantamount to criminal insanity. For those with limited equipment and limited patience, there have been few solutions to this conundrum outside of an impromptu grocery trip. Thankfully, non-dairy alternatives are no longer the anomaly in mainstream markets, although homemade ice cream will still beat out anything prepackaged any day of the week.

This recipe today goes out to all those ice cream fiends without ice cream machines. Plenty of low-tech methods exist for fabricating frozen treats without fancy machinery, but let’s be honest: Few people, myself included, care to fuss with scraping ice crystals or tossing around a plastic bag of ice cubes all day, just for a few bites of sweet satisfaction.

Your icy irritation ends here. All you need is a freezer, four ingredients, and an appetite. I would wager that you’ve already got two out of three already covered.

The ingenious CocoWhip by So Delicious is the secret ingredient that makes this sweet act of alchemy possible. Providing light, scoopable structure without any further agitation, the same results can also be achieved with good old whipped coconut cream, but starting with a ready-whipped and exceptionally stable base makes the process infinitely easier.

As luck would have it, So Delicious recently launched their Snackable Recipe Contest, so it would have been crazy for me to hold onto this treat any longer. Besides, as much as I love cooking, summer is meant to be enjoyed, not spent in the kitchen. Whip up this effortless ice cream base and go play; you’ll have a delicious dessert waiting for you when you return.

No-Churn Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

2/3 Cup Vanilla Coconut Creamer
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1 9-Ounce Package Cocowhip

In a large bowl, stir together the creamer, agave, and vanilla. Add in one small scoop of the Cocowhip, stirring to incorporate and begin to lighten the mixture. Introduce half of the remaining Cocowhip, folding it carefully into the liquid, keeping the airy structure as intact as possible. Repeat with the last portion of Cocowhip, leaving a few streaks in the mixture if need be; it’s better to under-mix than over-mix.

Pour the ice cream base into a loaf pan or air-tight container and carefully move it into your freezer. Allow it to sit, undisturbed, for at least 6 hours before serving.

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A Better Bistro

“Elevated cuisine” is not the bill of fare one might expect to come out of a shoe-box of a food trailer parked in the outskirts of east Austin, and yet Bistro Vonish seems determined to defy such preconceived notions. Redefining the category of fine dining through the lens of a classically trained vegan chef, Craig Vanis isn’t your ordinary line cook either. Propelled by a basic desire to feed others and express his creativity, his true inspirations are diverse, interwoven into the tangle of modern food politics and nutrition. “Food touches everyone, more than just micro nutrients,” he explained to me over a plate of three sisters ragu, a vibrant melange of summer vegetables crowning crispy seared polenta cakes. Clearly, none of this philosophy clouds the flavors in world-class dishes like this one, presented with equal flare on the ever-changing menu.

In sharp contrast to his current surroundings, Chef Craig first found himself in Texas to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer in the oil fields. Laid off after the 2009 economy collapse, that marked a turning point that began in Houston kitchens and ultimately led him back for professional training at the Natural Epicurean School in Austin. This complex path is perhaps what gives the food at Bistro Vonish such a clear and unique voice; there’s no one else with the same formative experiences, and certainly none quite so fervently determined to pursue their passions in the food industry.

Showcasing more than just impeccable cooking skills, the local, organic, seasonal produce dictates the daily offerings. Weekend brunches are a distinct treat, featuring pillowy french toast with homemade fruit syrups, and savory tofu scrambles that would put a plate of eggs to shame.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg, and only the start of greater aspirations for Bistro Vonish. Chef Craig plans to expand into a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant as soon as possible, enlivened with tempting menus that echo the successes of supper clubs past. While it will be difficult to wait for this upcoming new chapter in the Bistro Vonish saga, Chef Craig was generous enough to share his recipe for Grapefruit Panna Cotta; a sweet finale to tide us over until the next meal.


Photo by Craig Vanis

Grapefruit Panna Cotta
by Chef Craig Vanis of Bistro Vonish

1 (13.5-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Agar Powder
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1/2 Grapefruit
1/2 Cup Grapefruit Juice
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
6 Ounces Silken Tofu
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Simmer the coconut milk with the agar powder and sugar for approximately 10 – 15 minutes, to thoroughly cook and dissolve the agar. Blend the simmered liquid with the rest of the ingredients until creamy and smooth. Pour into lightly greased molds or ramekins to set; at least three hours or until firm. Chill thoroughly before serving.

Gently remove from molds and serve with the accompaniments of your choice. Suggestions include candied and fried sage, orange liqueur syrup, and tuile cookies.

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Corn Porn

The simplest elements of a meal, those unassuming side dishes that are all too often overshadowed by flashier, more expensive, or more complex mains, serve up far more nuance than they’re given credit for. A perfect example of this is the humble ear of corn. As summer marches on and those golden yellow kernels swell larger, juicier, and sweeter underneath the hot sun, truly sumptuous fresh corn is a rare treat despite its ubiquity. That’s because few cooks truly value this starchy staple as more than just plate filler. A whole world of flavor can be found within those pale green husks, just beyond the tangled forest of corn silk, if only one knows how coax it out.

Finesse is the key to letting such a pared-down dish shine, accentuating the inherent flavor of is base ingredients without covering them up with a heavy-handed smattering of seasonings. Elote, served up either straight on the cob or sheared off and mixed up in the humble “corn in a cup” presentation, is worth getting excited about. The concept is hardly a new one, appearing as classic Mexican street food for countless decades, and yet it’s still nearly impossible to find a vegan rendition to indulge in. Mayonnaise, sour cream, and/or cheese typically binds the creamy corn concoction together; an easy fix for the home cook, but good luck finding an accommodating eatery. That’s why eating my way through the menu at Cool Beans was such a revelation. Clearly, the chef at the helm here knows how to treat an ear of corn right. Not only do they make their own corn tortillas, placing the resulting tacos easily near the top of my list, but they’re perhaps the only ones outside of California that offer a proper vegan elote.

Tempted as I was to wheedle the recipe out of them, elote really should be so simple that only a basic formula is required. Start with sweet corn at the height of its growing season, prepared soon after it’s picked, and you can’t go wrong. Consider what follows more of a reminder to reconsider corn this summer, giving it a place of honor on the plate. Tweak seasonings as your heart desires; you truly can’t go wrong with either a spicier or subtler blend.

Do me a favor, would you? Stop taking corn for granted this summer and at long last, do the common cob proper justice with at least one big batch of elote.

Elote

8 Ears Sweet Corn, Husked
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Cup Raw Cashews, Soaked for 3 Hours and Thoroughly Drained
1 Clove Garlic, Roughly Chopped
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
3 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Minced
Chili Powder, to Garnish (Optional)

It’s easiest if you can simply toss the corn on a hot grill, but you can also take it indoors by heating up a large griddle over high heat. Depending on the size of your cooking surface, you may need to work in batches since the corn must make full contact directly with the surface of the vessel. Lightly brush the corn with oil and grill the corn until lightly charred, turning as needed. This process should take approximately 10 minutes, but let the color of the corn serve as your guide. Set aside to cool.

While the corn cools, turn your attention to the creamy accompaniment. Place the cashews, garlic, and lime juice in food processor, and pulse to combine. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula so that the nuts are all fairly well broken down. Add in the nutritional yeast, agave, paprika, cayenne, and salt, pulsing to incorporate. Allow the motor to run while slowly drizzling in the water, blending thoroughly. The sauce should still be a bit coarse in texture, as the small pieces of cashew that remain will more closely emulate the traditional curds of cotija cheese.

Cut the kernels off of the corn cobs and place them in a large bowl. Pour the cashew sauce on top and mix thoroughly. Add in the fresh cilantro, tossing to combine. Divide the elote into 6 – 8 cups and top with a sprinkle of chili powder, if desired.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

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Fine and Funky Fresca

Saying that Texas gets hot during the summer would be like calling the Pluto a “little bit chilly,” as it spins around outer space to the tune of -180° C on a good day. Despite being better suited for the tropics than the arctic, nothing could have prepared me for the crushing heat that settles in like a thick blanket by midday, every day without fail, refusing to abate even after the sun has long since abandoned its post in the sky. Whereas Hawaii has trade winds to push the offending humidity to the side every now and then, so much as a gentle breeze can be tough to come by around here. What’s even more ominous and vaguely alarming is the fact that it’s technically not even summer yet. The locals all give a knowing, far away stare and a nod whenever the subject comes up, as if to say, “You just wait.”

Unprepared for but not altogether unhappy about the extreme climate, I would still much rather be too hot than too cold, so the intensity of the daily highs is just a part of life. After the morning bath in sunscreen, proper hydration is the only way to cope. It’s impossible to drink enough water, which is why it’s critical to make those bottomless glasses as appealing as possible.

Enter the agua fresca. Traditionally augmented with a generous dose of sugar, it turns out that simply using perfectly ripe fruit makes it unnecessary to further gild the lily in that department. Chasing after flavor rather than pure sweetness, my interpretation of the fruit-based beverage may look downright swampy, but trust me, the flavor is all bright, light, and refreshing watermelon goodness. While the added nutritional punch from a handful of spinach is to blame for the deceptive color, it ultimately acts as a silent partner in this successful production.

Although I may not stick around long enough to experience the true terror of a full-fledged Texan summer, I know that with a pitcher of this cool, fruity blend by my side, I’ll be prepared for any of the heat or humidity that awaits me back home.

Minted Melon Agua Fresca

1 – 2 Cups Fresh Baby Spinach, Packed
1/3 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves, Packed
4 Cups Cubed Seedless Watermelon
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 – 1 Cup Cold Water
Pinch Salt (Optional)
Ice, to Serve

Pull out your blender and add the spinach and mint into the canister first, followed by the watermelon chunks. Begin blending on a low speed, just to start chewing up all the leafy greens at the bottom. Drizzle in the lime juice and 1/2 cup of water to help keep things spinning, and slowly turn it up to a high speed. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth. It may take a bit longer for machines with a bit less power to process through all the greener, so be patient and don’t rush this step.

Strain the juice through a fine mesh sieve or nut milk bag, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard any remaining pulp. Add more water if desired. Pour over ice and enjoy immediately. Stay cool, everyone!

Makes About 4 Cups

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