BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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

Printable Recipe


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Silent Sunday: Sweet on Austin

Zombie Sundae (with Chocolate-Chai and Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream) from Sweet Ritual

Austin Cream Pie Donut from Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwich (with Chocolate Chip Cookies) from Moojo

Currant Scone and Iced Chai Tea from The Steeping Room

Chocolate-Dipped, Coconut-Covered Frozen Banana from Bananarchy

Birthday Cake Cupcake (Strawberry Cake with Almond Whipped Topping) from Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop

Nada Moo Vanilla Chai Sundae, Ice Cream Social Hosted by Counter Culture

Chocolate, Carrot, Lemon, Coconut, Cookie Dough, and Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from Sugar Circus

Dreamsicle Cupcake from Capital City Bakery


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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.

Printable Recipe


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Beyond the Deafening Silence

Ending one of the longest hiatuses of BitterSweet‘s nine year history, completely unplanned and unannounced, allow me to state the obvious by saying that it’s difficult to know exactly where to begin. Posts that ramble on about how much the writer regrets being away, how ashamed they are of their negligence and obvious deficiencies as a blogger irritate me to no end, so let’s skip all that needless bellyaching, shall we? Traveling around the country, learning from each new day, eating nearly everything in sight, I have no remorse for living life offline for a few brilliant weeks.

Austin has truly welcomed me with open arms, hosting the third and sadly final Vida Vegan Conference in the last days of May. It was an incredible honor to have spoken not once, but twice, in this crowning gem of VVC’s illustrious legacy. The experience was so overwhelming, in the best way possible, that I have a feeling I’ll still be digesting it for quite a while to come.

Nopalito and Tofu Scramble Tacos from The Golden Spike Rail Cart

Seared Radicchio with Blistered Tomatoes, Green Lentils, Crisp Rice Cakes, and Peach-Balsamic Sauce from Bistro Vonish

Veganized “Donna Summer” (three biscuits, white pepper gravy, tofu scramble, meatless sausage and vegan cheese from Biscuits and Groovy

Speaking of digesting, the vegan food scene out here in the middle of Texas has wildly exceeded all expectations, and I’ve only just scratched the surface on the endless options that litter the urban landscape. Everywhere you turn, tiny trucks and carts sprout from the sidewalks, overflowing into open parking lots, peddling cruelty-free cooking with all the flare of any traditional restaurant. The street food culture is deeply rooted here, largely unencumbered by the laws that rein in all stripes of innovators in most big cities, creating a genuinely open playing field for any food-obsessed dreamers with initiative. Air conditioning is non-existent in the summer heat, rough wooden picnic tables replace white linen tablecloths, and I couldn’t be happier to scrape the pretentious veneer off of fine dining.

Life moves at a different pace around here. It’s far from the maddening crowds, yet always right in the heart of the action. Easily hitting the mid-90’s even in these early days of June, the heat and humidity simply prevent anyone from rushing around too fast. No, you might as well take your time, crawl slowly from one shady spot to the next, chatting and slurping down ice water wherever the two might be found. Austin has effortlessly become another place I’d like to call home, which is a good thing since I’m sticking around for another few weeks to take in the sights, sounds, and flavors all around.

There’s still much for us to catch up on, from recipes and reviews to more travel tidbits from San Francisco, but as I’ve learned from unhurried clip of the daily routine out west; all in good time, my friends.


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Gather Together

Gather is much more than a place to eat, more carefully sourced, passionately created, and openly hospitable than the average eatery. Explicitly conceived as a means for connecting farmers, cooks, and diners with every bite, local and organic ingredients aren’t mere buzz words tossed around these vaulted ceilings, but honest mantras held in the highest regard. A certified LEED Platinum building in downtown Berkeley provides the foundation for this mission without missing a beat.

Guests are invited to take a look into the open kitchen and watch the chefs in action, meticulously crafting dishes at a steady but brisk pace. The great outdoors are welcomed inside, with a comfortable sundeck seamlessly connecting the two spaces, while large-pane windows allow daylight to readily flow throughout. Even the menu itself exhibits this very same openness, boasting plates for every imaginable dietary constraint all in the same breath. Most impressively, the inherent depth of flavor found in food itself doesn’t suffer one bit for all these extraneous considerations. Impeccably fresh produce sings on stark white plates, imploring eaters to join the song, whether they’re vegan, gluten-free, omnivorous, or just plain hungry.

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