BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Blender Bender

To anyone who’s ever eyed their rapidly growing collection of kitchen equipment and shrinking counter space with dismay, there comes a point when only the most essential tools can still make the cut. A blender will always be at the top of that list, but even so, are you really making the most of it? Wonder no more, because The Blender Girl Cookbook by Tess Masters will keep you happily spinning away from breakfast to dinner, and everything in between. Tess is the unrivaled guru of all things blended, blitzed, and pureed as far as I’m concerned, which makes it all the more shameful that I’ve withheld a proper review of this book for nearly two years. Her blog is an invaluable resource for eaters of all tastes and cooks of all skill levels. She understands the zen of a spinning blade like no one else I’ve met, combining her expert knowledge with a trained palate and penchant for crafting unique recipes. I never feel as though I could do proper justice to all her skills, but instead of sitting this review for another year or worse, I hope this small sample of my experiences might inspire others to go out and try more for themselves.

When my enthusiasm for a mango sale left me with a considerable surplus, I turned to Tess for some suggestions. A smoothie would have been too obvious, too ordinary, so the Magic Mango Massage salad immediately caught my eye as an intriguing approach to managing this embarrassing excess. Though it didn’t strike me as a necessarily harmonious pairing on paper, the fruits’ naturally sour edge matches the gentle bitterness of the dark leafy greens beautifully. Light, sprightly herbal notes add freshness while the tangy, spicy dressing, tempered by the sweet mango chunks and creamy avocado, completes the picture with a flourish. Simple but so well balanced, the whole assembly is a shining example of what ordinary ingredients can do when combined in just the right proportions.

Goma Dofu, a study in subtlety and a delicacy when correctly executed, is done proper justice by this easy recipe. It ultimately comes down to only 3 main ingredients when all told: tahini, vegetable stock, and kuzu starch. Wobbling like a softly set custard, its unassuming appearance belies rich sesame flavor. Nuances of umami whisper gently throughout, leaving the lucky eater with a surprisingly rich impression. Creamy, cool, and refreshing, it would be an ideal appetizer to enjoy on a hot day.

Though the juicing trend has failed to spark my interest, to say the least, I can still fully appreciate a tall glass of vegetable juice when the mood strikes. Thus I found myself drawn to the Spicy Gazpacho Grab, which is really more of a sippable soup than a thin, unfulfilling drink. This ruby red elixir sparkles with just the right accent of spice, reminiscent of V-8, only so much brighter and bolder. Both thirst-quenching and satisfying, I would even be tempted to leave the blend slightly chunky next time around, serving just as I would for the traditional chilled tomato soup.

If The Blender Girl Cookbook doesn’t restore your blender to a place of honor in your kitchen, nothing will. Since publication, Tess hasn’t stopped dreaming up new recipes for even a minute, unleashing a full book focused on smoothies and a companion app as well, with no sign of slowing down. Rumor has it that another cookbook is in the pipeline as we speak. In the meantime though, this wealth of fool-proof formulas will keep me blending smoothly for months, if not years, to come.


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Silent Sunday: Dim Sum and Then Some

Vegetarian Steamed Buns from Imperial Tea Court

Stinky Tofu from Taste of Formosa

Vegetarian Hand-Pulled Noodles from House of Pancakes

Tofu & Mushrooms from House of Pancakes

Mapo Tofu Bao from Hella Vegan Eats

Spicy Beancurd from Shangri-La

Vegetarian Goose from Shanghai Dumpling King

Tofu Thread Salad from Shanghai Dumpling King

Vegetarian Steamed Dumplings from Shanghai Dumpling King


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Play Second Fideo to None

Winter in California looks very different from the winters of my childhood. Instead of the white wonderland I’d peer out at from my bedroom window, blankets of snow magically transforming the landscape into a brave new world, the scenery out here remains largely unchanged. Colder but not freezing, darker but not unshakably gloomy, the days of this season proceed much like those that came before, and will no doubt come once again. The key difference, however, is the rain.

You’re not allowed to complain about any amount of precipitation, each minuscule drop of moisture deemed essential to refilling the depleted reservoirs. Even when the winds blow and the temperatures drop, turning a steady shower into a clammy midday swim through the city streets, it’s all good, or so we say through clenched teeth. Thank goodness for the rain, bring on more rain, let it continue to rain all month, but for the love of a higher power, please let me find a way to stay dry!

As a hapless pedestrian, this request is as impossible as it is foolish to put to words. There’s no way to avoid a drenching soak, even while sprinting away from the BART at top speed, umbrella unfurled overhead. By the time I make it to the shelter of my warm little shack, wet and tired as a rung out rag, it’s hard to muster the same veneer of enthusiasm for this kind of weather. This is a job for comfort food.

Referred to by some as “Mexican Spaghetti,” fideo is the simple sort of pasta dish that has nearly universal appeal thanks to both its flavor and ease of preparation. What’s not to love about toasted noodles infused with a pinch of cumin and a hint of rich tomatoes? Typically served dry as a side dish or flooded with broth as a soup, my preference falls somewhere in between; a thick stew of vegetables and pasta that could be eaten either with a spoon or a fork, depending on how long the noodles are cooked. Taking that concept just one step further, I realized I had a genuine risotto on my hands- Just without the rice.

Silky strands of broken spaghetti boast a uniquely nutty taste thanks to a quick saute before cooking, setting this dish apart from your average heap of pale pasta. Roasted peppers mingle amongst the short strands, harmonizing with the essences of smoked paprika and cumin to render a wholly warming, revitalizing bowl full of edible comfort. It’s a hair fancier than the original inspiration, but not much more fuss, and a whole lot more satisfying as far as I’m concerned.

Alright, bring on the rain! As long as I can come home to a revitalizing bowlful of fideo risotto, it’s really not such a bad deal.

Fideo Risotto

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
2 Cups (1/2 Pound) Broken or Cut Spaghetti
1/2 Large Red Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Roma Tomatoes, Diced
1 Poblano Pepper, Roasted, Seeded, and Diced
1 Red or Orange Bell Pepper, Roasted, Seeded, and Diced
3 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Broth
1 – 2 Tablespoon Tequila (Optional)
3 Tablespoons Lime Juice
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1 1/2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Cup Corn Kernels, Canned and Drained or Frozen and Thawed
1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Chopped
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
1/4 Cup Toasted Pepitas (Optional)

Place half of the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Once shimmering, add in the pasta and stir to coat. Saute the noodles, stirring frequently, until toasted and golden brown all over; 5 – 8 minutes. Remove the noodles from the pot and set aside.

Return the pot to the stove and add in the remaining oil. Cook the onions and garlic together until softened and aromatic. Introduce the tomatoes and both roasted peppers next, stirring periodically, and continuing to cook until the onion are lightly golden. Add the vegetable broth, tequila (if using), lime juice, nutritional yeast, paprika, and cumin.

Bring the liquid up to a boil before returning the toasted noodles to the pot. Stir well to incorporate, cover, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer gently until the pasta is tender and the liquid mostly absorbed; 9 – 11 minutes. Mix in the corn and fresh cilantro last right after taking the pot off the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top individual servings with a tablespoon or so of pepitas, if desired.

Serves 3 – 4 as a Main Dish

Printable Recipe


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Down and Dirty with Clean Eating

Holiday indulgences still weighing heavily on the minds (and hips) of many winter revelers, the added stress of New Year’s resolutions brings out the worst in some people. I’m not talking about those determined to follow the gospel of the latest diet fad or exercise craze- They’re only trying to do what’s right, what society expects of them for all their gustatory sins. No, I’m pointing straight to those spreading this propaganda, pushing the miracle cures and instant detoxes, complete with catchy slogans so obtuse that it’s hard to find any true meaning behind them. “New Year, New You” is undoubtedly one of the most prevalent, springing up again year after year, the elastic of its tenor just as punchy in 2016 as it was in 2006, and perhaps even 1996. It’s a good thing most consumers can’t remember the marketing pitches from these forgotten eras, or else we’d all be bored to tears for the redundancy of it all.

As a food obsessive and enthusiast, the saying that really gets to me above all others is the call to “Eat Clean.” Tell me, when was the last time you got a plate of food at a restaurant and thought, Oh, I’m so hungry, but this meal just came out much too dirty for me. What would that even look like? A plate full of soil, wriggling earthworms and all? Would it constitute a reasonable excuse for sending the dish back, an offense on par with receiving a carbonized, unforgivably burnt pancake? My own personal mantra has become a reactive “Keep Your Laundry Clean and Your Food Dirty.” Yes, I want to buy my kale with ladybugs still clinging to the leaves. Yes, I will actively seek out potatoes that are in dire need of a good scrub. I want my food to be that dirty, because to me, “dirty” should be synonymous with “fresh.”

Rant aside, there are still some redeeming side effects to the annual revitalization of healthy eating. While I may not be a fan of the label, I do love a hearty meal that doesn’t contain the same amount of oil required to power a snow blower through a foot of icy slush. Thus, titles notwithstanding, I’ve found some real edible gems in Terry Walters’ work. A prolific recipe writer, I’ve been enjoying her food for years now, and this brief feature itself is long overdue. Eat Clean, Live Well was released well over a year ago, but has proven to be a real catch in a sea of nutritionally-oriented cooking tomes.

Pictured above, the red lentil patties in particular have become an indispensable staple for quick meals, perfect for preparing in batches, freezing, and reviving on the fly. The crisp exterior allows them the fortitude to withstand the burger treatment, standing strong without crumbling on the bun yet yielding to a downright creamy interior texture. For a more elegant meal, they function beautifully atop roasted or sauteed vegetables, drizzled with delicate herb-infused sauces and garnished with tender micro greens. Or, as is most often the case, they’re downright dreamy paired simply with tahini or a pungent, garlicky aioli sauce for dipping.

Don’t fall for the hype; eat as dirty as you like. Just make sure you wash your hands before sitting down at the table.

Red Lentil Patties with Garlic and Fresh Herbs

Reprinted with permission from Eat Clean Live Well © 2014 by Terry Walters, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

1 cup red lentils
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, basil, cilantro or any combination)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup gluten-free bread or rice crumbs

Rinse and drain lentils and place in pot with vegetable stock or water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer covered 15 minutes until lentils are mushy and all liquid is absorbed (you may want to leave lid cracked open slightly to prevent pot from boiling over). Remove from heat and set aside.

In large cast iron skillet, sauté garlic and onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft (about 3 minutes). Add roasted red pepper and sauté 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a bowl. Add lentils, fold in herbs and sea salt, and season to taste with pepper. Gradually fold in breadcrumbs until batter is thick (you may not need all depending on how dry your lentils are) and set aside for 2–3 minutes to allow batter to thicken.

Drizzle cast iron skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Scoop batter and roll into 1 1/2 -inch balls. Place in skillet and flatten into patties 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. Cook until crispy (4–5 minutes per side), transfer to baking sheet and cover to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter until ingredients are used up and serve.

SERVES 6 (makes twelve 2 1/2-inch patties)

Printable Recipe


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Fond Farewells

As the sun recedes and daylight begins to fade for the final time this year, it’s natural to reflect back on 2015, for all the good and bad that’s come to pass. Although there’s little sense in dwelling on the downfalls and defeats of 2015, I can’t help but at least pay homage to some of the sad losses seen by the bay area dining scene. We’ve lost a few gems in the vegan restaurant community, as is to be expected with such difficult professional endeavors. Before moving on to more celebratory subjects, I want to pay my final respects to a few of those fallen in the line of food service.

Source – Best known for their burgers and classic American menu, Source filled a need for cruelty-free comfort food in the SoMa area. Pizzas were also outstanding, topped with everything from buffalo “chicken” to beefy taco fixings and every veggie in between. Not one red sauce joint in town has come close to replicating those fearless flavor combinations so far.

Nature’s Express – Billed as a natural alternative to fast food, the service may have been prompt, but the bill of fare far surpassed the greasy standards of any mainstream establishment. Affordable, healthy wraps, sandwiches, and salads made it a breeze to grab a good meal on the go.

Herbivore Divisadero – Succeeded by two remaining outposts, one in San Francisco proper and one across the bay in Berkeley, the fact that there’s still a chance to enjoy the classic lentil loaf and gigantic salads makes this loss a little bit easier to swallow. It’s just a shame to see the family shrink, making their solid offerings even slightly less accessible.

Cafe Gratitude – The last remaining Northern California location of this beloved old-school vegan institution is the most recent departure on this list. Having closed their doors a mere day ago, the juicers may very well still be warm, the smell of freshly pressed kale still lingering in the air. Even in the short amount of time we had together, Cafe Gratitude effortlessly captured my heart with its colorful bowls of “I Am Terrific” pad Thai, made with kelp noodles and raw almond sauce. That dish is one that I will miss above all the rest, that makes all other cravings pale in comparison.

It is with a heavy heart that we must bid these businesses adieu, but hope for a brighter, and even more delicious New Year shines brightly on the horizon. Many new openings promise to invigorate the industry with a wide array of fresh vegan options in the months to come.


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A Cookie for Every Craving

Whether you’ve baked a dozen batches of every cookie bookmarked in your recipe file or have yet to fire up the oven, it’s never too late to squeeze in another sweet option. Especially true around the holidays, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season than with a few homemade morsels of sweetness. The possibilities are simply endless, taking form in every shape under the sun, boasting colors and flavors previously beyond the scope of imagination. Even if you have a game plan all set out for your festive gifts, desserts, and midnight snacks, it’s never to late to add a few more recipes to that list.

This is especially true when you’re talking about the winners of the annual VegNews Holiday Cookie Contest. Certified delicious by a panel of discerning sweet teeth, I was tasked with an assignment of significant import: Photographing the top three victorious treats. Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

In third place, the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies by Alison Sullivan sparkle with the warm spices and rich chocolate flavor. The only thing better than enjoying one still warm out of the oven would be to pair it with a cup of the eponymous beverage itself.

Coming in at second place, the Gingerbread Fudge Buttons by Anna Jurik are real beauties to behold. Luscious pools of melted chocolate resting in tender gingerbread cups, these options are sure to shine on any cookie platter.

Taking the grand prize in first place, it’s easy to see why the Salted Caramel Cookies by Michelle Norton took the cake- Or cookie, as it were. Dangerously easy to whip up, this sweet and salty combination hits all the high notes in every soft, chewy bite. Just try and leave a single one out for Santa, I dare you!

No matter how you decide to celebrate the holiday, or not, be sure to make it sweet. Have a happy everything!


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Ugly but Tasty

Though it’s a quality often possessed by the most delicious meals and one that I passionately embrace in my daily menu, ugliness can be the kiss of death for a new recipe. Creations so unsightly that no amount of careful prop styling nor Photoshopping can disguise, countless innocent dishes have met their end, sacrificed in the name of vanity and not in good taste. For this conceit, I must apologize, my dear readers. It’s a personal shortfall that I couldn’t look beyond a bad photo shoot for so many homely, but tasty, pursuits.

Thank goodness for recipe tasters. Even when I’ve written something off as unexceptional, imperfect, and most commonly of all, unphotogenic, there are passionate eaters in my life outspoken enough to rescue those edible gems from certain doom. One of the most “famous” cases was that of the Frankenstorm Pie; quickly thrown together without any recipe at all, it was only due to the begging and pleading of the recipients that it was even recorded in any format to begin with, let alone make the final cut for the pages of Easy as Vegan Pie.

By some small miracle and number of very vocal recipients, one of last year’s holiday gifts was rescued from a similar fate. Inspired by the traditional rum ball, these potent little treats may be sorely lacking in the beauty department, but the flavor sure won’t leave you wanting. Spiked with a heady dose of both mint and coffee liqueurs, they were originally dubbed “Boozy Peppermint Mocha Balls,” but the only way I could think to improve their image problem was to further finesse the moniker, at the very least.

Just think of these little morsels as the adult version of a peppermint mocha latte in candy form, and for maximum enjoyment, don’t waste too much time admiring their good looks… Or lack thereof.

Spiked Peppermint Mocha Bites

2 1/2 (12-Ounce) Packages Peppermint Joe-Joe’s or Mint Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (30 Ounces Total)
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar, Divided
1/4 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup (6 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Cup Kahlua or Any Other Coffee Liqueur
1/4 Cup Creme de Menthe or Any Other Mint Liqueur

Place the minty sandwich cookies of your choice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “s” blade, and pulse until very finely ground. Don’t worry about a few larger pieces; the extra texture is a nice addition. Introduce 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar, instant coffee, and salt next, pulse briefly to incorporate.

In a microwave-safe dish, combine the chocolate and maple syrup, and heat for 60 seconds. Let stand for another minute before stirring thoroughly, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Add the liquid chocolate into the food processor along with both liqueurs. Pulse again until the mixture is more or less homogeneous, with no particular dry or wet patches.

Scoop out a heaping tablespoon for each bite, roll firmly but gently into a ball between your palms, and toss in the remaining cup of confectioner’s sugar to coat. Repeat until all of the cookie mixture is used up, and work quickly; it becomes increasingly difficult to shape as the chocolate cools. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week, or in the fridge for up to a month… If you can manage to ignore them for that long.

Makes 5 – 6 Dozen Bites

Printable Recipe

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