BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Running Wild and in the Gnude

Never have I met a group of people more enthusiastic about an ominous forecast calling for relentless days of rain, varying from light mists to pounding torrents. After waiting with baited breath for the El Niño predicted to put all other storms to shame, the entire state of California seems to breathe a sigh of relief with every drop of moisture returning back to the parched earth. Cautious optimism prevents anyone from suggesting that our water woes are a thing of the past, or that reservoirs are even remotely close to normal levels yet, but the subject is no longer so fraught with doom and gloom, despite the lack of sun. We all know just how important these rains are to fortify all the local farms both big and small, responsible for producing no less than 99% of the entire country’s artichokes, walnuts, and kiwis, just for starters. What fewer are aware of is the positive impact the precipitation is having on a much smaller, less cultivated crop; mushrooms.

Mushroom foraging is a hit-or-miss affair, unpredictable in the best situations. Aside from the poisonous potential of picking the wrong fungus, the intrepid adventurer risks disappointment on every outing, no matter their level of expertise. Mushrooms love damp, but not cold, and cool, but not wet weather, which makes this season their time to shine. Springing forth under the cover of fallen leaves and the fallen trunks of trees, finding these edible treasures is like a grownup version of hide-and-go-seek, although the seeker doesn’t know exactly what might be hiding, complicating the game quite a bit. The good news is that as long as it doesn’t kill you, every mushroom has incredible culinary potential, stuffed to the gills with deep, nuanced, and entirely unique umami flavors, simply waiting to be unleashed.

Such a lavish assortment of wild mushrooms should be celebrated in dishes that will feature their savory character and meaty texture to the fullest.

Gnudi, best described as naked ravioli, also share similarities with gnocchi but are made with ricotta instead of potato. Simple in concept yet spectacular in execution, they’re like little cheesy pillows that practically melt in your mouth. Bound together with just enough flour to hold their shapes, these are nothing like the dense balls of dough one might otherwise encounter when attempting to eat traditional dumplings. In this case, tofu ricotta easily replaces the dairy foundation, transforming this savory dish into a light, dreamy, and yet impossibly rich indulgence. It’s all thanks to those humble mushrooms.

If you’re lucky enough to have the right terrain and ideal conditions, get out there while the fungus is good! For everyone else, hit up the nearest grocery store and start foraging through the produce aisle instead. It may not be so wild, but let’s be honest: Any mushroom will still be delicious.

Gnudi with Wild Mushrooms

Tofu Ricotta Gnudi:

1 Pound Extra-Firm Tofu, Thoroughly Drained and Rinsed
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Water
All-Purpose Flour*, to Coat

Sauteed Wild Mushrooms:

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Small Shallots, Finely Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Pound Fresh Wild (or Cultivated) Mushrooms (Such as Crimini, Oyster, Shiitake), Sliced
1 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
3/4 Cup Mushroom or Vegetable Broth
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Fresh Parsley, Minced

*For a gluten-free version, try using white rice flour or sorghum flour instead.

Crumble the tofu into a large bowl and add all the rest of the ingredients for the gnudi, except for the flour. Don’t be afraid to get dirty, because the best way to mix this is to get in there with your hands! Combine everything thoroughly, further breaking down the tofu so that no large chunks remain, and the overall texture of the mixture is something akin to smooth cottage cheese. Move the bowl into the fridge and chill for 15 – 30 minutes before proceeding.

Bring a large of water up to a gentle simmer. It’s very important that the water is not boiling, because the gnudi are too delicate to withstand that sort of violence. Using a small cookie scoop or two spoons, form the chilled gnudi mixture into about 24 balls, tossing them gently in flour to coat. Carefully slide 5 or 6 balls into the simmering water at a time to prevent the pot from getting too crowded. Simmer for 2 – 3 minutes, or until cooked through. Lift out with a slotted spoon and repeat with the remaining gnudi. The gnudi can be made in advance up to this point and kept for up to 4 hours in the fridge.

When ready to serve, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and sautée until golden brown. Introduce the sliced mushrooms, dried herbs, and broth next, cooking until softened and highly aromatic; about 5 minutes. Add the gnudi, gently tossing to incorporate and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until gnudi are heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with fresh parsley, and enjoy immediately.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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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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Southern Fried with All the Fixin’s

Southern food is not a subject I can speak about with any authority, but I’d like to believe that I make up for such an absence in knowledge with enthusiasm and curiosity. Though I can count the number of times I’ve eaten the cuisine on one hand, thanks to the dearth of vegan options in general, the comforting, straightforward flavors always resonate. Given the opportunity to explore this uncharted culinary territory with the sage wisdom of The Southern Vegetarian Cookbook, it was an edible adventure I couldn’t resist. Though the pages are still packed with recipes calling for eggs, cheese, and butter, there are enough solid ideas here to provide the inspiration for vegan adaptations. Take, for example, the infamous Chicken-Fried Portobello with Mushroom and Shallot Gravy, originally appearing on the authors’ blog years ago to great acclaim. It’s no surprise; between the crisp, lightweight breaded exterior and the inherent umami depth of the mushroom, such a deceptively simple preparation can do no wrong. Similarly, that gravy could just as easy coat a used dish sponge, and I would happily wolf the whole thing down, as long as I could use a spoon to catch every last drop.

Swap out the egg for ground flaxseeds mixed with water, and the cream for any unsweetened non-dairy milk, and you’ll be in business too. Paired with sauteed, smoky beet greens and lightly charred corn, it was the perfect summer dinner, complete with a comforting southern accent.


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February, Quite Contrary

Writing about a month that’s nearly over and full of contradictions isn’t easy. Try as I might, on this bonus leap year day, I can’t find the words to sum it all up in one neat little package. Back in December, I thought I was being so clever when I prepared a batch of my favorite hearty, warming dishes, creating ample blog fodder for the brutal winter to come. Now I have a stock pile of main meals that are just a bit too rich for most days- Thank you very much, fickle Mother Nature. Still, inconsistent to the very end, there’s talk of snow in today’s forecast again today, so I’m seizing the opportunity to trot out a genuine belly-warmer while I still can.

It was something mentioned in an interview, an offhand comment that I forgot about as soon as I said it. A dish that I often would whip up for myself for a quick dinner, something easy to eat, and admittedly, almost embarrassing to spill the details about. You know those meals that you love but would never serve to anyone else? That was this curry. Although it was undeniably inspired by Sri Lankan curry, featuring cashews soaked for hours to lend them a uniquely creamy yet toothsome texture, I figured that people of more standard food preferences may find that approach a bit unappealing. Naturally, this was the comment that most readers picked up on and asked about, clamoring for a recipe. So here I am, sharing my secret semi-junky, completely inauthentic comfort food curry that was never intended to be shared in the spotlight. Lesson learned: Be careful what culinary sins you casually divulge on the internet.

Thankfully, it’s far from beyond saving, and a few small adaptions can make it more agreeable to pickier customers. Don’t soak the cashews to keep them crunchier, or swap them out altogether for beans to create a lighter dish. All the rest is pretty standard, but it’s gotten me out of a dinner jam more times than I can recall. When I think of comfort food, this recipe is high on my list.

Sri Lankan-Inspired Cashew Curry

1 1/2 Cups Whole, Raw Cashews*, Optionally Soaked for 2 Hours
1 Tablespoon Olive or Coconut Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 – 4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Minced
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock or Water
2 – 3 Tablespoons Madras Curry Powder
1 Large Sweet Potato or 2 Medium, Peeled and Chopped
2 Medium Zucchinis, Halved Lengthwise and Chopped
1 14-Ounce Can Light Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
2 Cups Frozen Peas
Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste

Cooked Rice, Quinoa, or Couscous to Serve (Optional)

*For a lower-fat (and lower-cost) alternative, substitute 2 – 3 cups cooked white kidney beans.

Rinse and thoroughly drain you cashews if soaking (or beans, if canned); Set aside.

In a large sauce pot over medium heat, warm the oil before adding in the diced onion. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and burning, until soften and translucent; about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and ginger, and continue to saute for 8 – 10 minutes longer, so that everything is very lightly caramelized and highly aromatic. De-glaze with the vegetable stock or water, being certain to scrape up any tasty brown bits that may be clinging to the bottom of the pot.

Follow that addition with the cashews or beans, curry powder (to taste- I find it’s very mild and go with 3 tablespoons, but if preparing this for children, they may prefer the lesser amount), sweet potatoes, zucchinis, coconut milk, and soy sauce. Stir well to incorporate, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender. Turn off the heat, and incorporate the peas, straight out of the freezer. No need to thaw, as they’ll immediately come up to temperature once they hit the hot curry. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately! (It does reheat beautifully though- Just save in an air-tight container once fully cooled, and bring it back up to a simmer on the stove when you’re ready to eat. Add more water if necessary to thin out the stew.)

Serves 4 – 5 Solo; 6 – 7 with a Grain Accompaniment

Printable Recipe

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