BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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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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

Printable Recipe


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Cashew is King

Dense, silky smooth, capable of melting so slowly and seductively across the palate that it seems to linger far beyond the average taste; cashew ice cream has certainly come a long way. Once a mere glimmer in the eye of the mad kitchen scientist who dared venture outside the standard arsenal of readily available dairy alternatives, cashew ice cream has finally hit the mainstream, and in a big way thanks to So Delicious. Textural superiority provides the unshakable foundation for all of these nutty frozen desserts, unburdened by excessive gums or stabilizers like so many commercial options. This attention to ingredient detail allows the most basic of flavors, the vanilla-infused Creamy Cashew, to shine without any adulteration. Similarly, the unfussy Cappuccino boasts a perfectly balanced coffee flavor, deepened by a subtle hint of cinnamon in the afterglow of each frosty bite. What truly sets this line of nut-based pints apart from the pack in the freezer aisle, however, are their bolder, unabashedly indulgent flavor combinations.

Turtle Trails from the original Purely Decadent label has been my top pick for countless years, but now that I’ve tasted the sweet extravagance of Salted Caramel Cluster, I may just have a new favorite treat. So packed full of chunks that it’s difficult to scoop, this pint of cashew goodness is not messing around. Whole, full-sized, plump cashews smothered in crisp shells of dark chocolate litter the landscape, flanked by rivulets of flowing caramel sauce. Notes of browned, burnt sugar define the custard base, spiked with just the right amount of salt to propel the flavor into crave-worthy territory.

Dark Chocolate Truffle succeeds in delivering an equally intense dessert experience as well, clearly formulated with the unreformed, unapologetic chocoholic in mind. Strong chocolate ice cream with devilishly bitter edges cradles thin shards of shaved chocolate that shatter effortlessly between the teeth. Truly an “adult” chocolate ice cream, it would be a disservice to compare it to the average cocoa concoction. The plentiful truffles are even better than those found in the average box of chocolate, especially since you’ll always know exactly what you’re going to get; every scoop is delicious, just as promised.

If simple sugar cookies and cinnamon spice hold more allure when a sugar craving hits, then the Snickerdoodle would be just your speed. Reminiscent of a thick, icy glass of horchata, this comforting blend has the upper hand on the original beverage thanks to the abundant smattering of gluten-free cookie dough pieces found throughout. Each bite maintains a soft, supple chew, no matter how deeply the pint has been wedged into the back of the icebox. I couldn’t help but further the cookie theme by serving up a few scoops as ice cream sandwiches, but the beauty of this variety is each spoonful provides the full compliment of these childhood treats, without the hand-held mess.

Even in the increasingly crowded category of vegan ice creams, So Delicious manages to continue innovating, reinventing itself, and staying ahead of trends while still remaining genuinely delicious. These cashew ice creams deserve a place in your freezer- But I can promise that they won’t stay there very long.


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Silent Sunday: Let’s Taco ‘Bout It

The Native Taco and The Outkast Taco with Elote from Cool Beans.

The Grilled Avocado Reale Taco and #3 Breakfast Taco from The Vegan Nom.

Vegan Taco Salad from Juiceland.

Veggie Tacos (Swapping Cheese for Mushrooms) from Cherrywood Coffeehouse.

El Vegetal and Hongos Con Rajas (Minus Cheese) from El Chilito.

Frito Pie (AKA a “Walking Taco”) from The Vegan Yacht.


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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

Printable Recipe

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