BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Jellyfish Season

Up until recently, I was blissfully unaware that a creature may proliferate during a specific season, just as a fruit or vegetable may have a small window of sudden abundance. That was, until a family of these gelatinous creatures descended upon my kitchen without warning.

Gravitating towards the fridge, they seem happiest near a readily available source of food, and seem wholly uninterested in moving on to warmer shores. Far from threatening and actually quite cheerful, I see no harm in letting them float about in the comfort of a safe environment. Miles away from pesky beach goers and without a care in the world, it may permanently be jellyfish season in these parts from here on in.

It couldn’t be easier to whip up a whole swarm of these sting-free softies. Simply print and cut out the template, trace the shapes on your desired color of felt, and carefully trim the fabric. Glue small eyes and embroider a happy smile on the plain head (without the tentacles). Use a matching color of thread to whip stitch the head to the head with tentacles, pausing as you reach the end to very lightly stuff it with batting. Glue a magnet to the back, stick it on the fridge, and admire your handiwork.


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Playing Cat-sup

For the record, I hate ketchup. Not just some brands or in some applications, but all ketchup, across the board, even with the classic pairing of crispy and well-salted french fries. There is no faster way to ruin a perfectly good handful of starchy, fried potatoes than to throw some of that red glop across the top. Too sweet to be comfortably paired with savory main dishes but certainly no dessert fodder, it’s that extra piece of the puzzle that doesn’t make sense anywhere in the bigger picture of a meal, and may in fact have come from an entirely different box.

So why on earth did I go and make a quick ketchup, on a blindingly busy day where I had to bake and snap pictures at a breakneck pace? I like to challenge myself, for one thing; Dissecting my reasons for detesting this tomato-based substance, it became a more of a dare. “I bet you can’t make a better version, either,” I taunted myself silently. For another, I can’t resist the temptation to positively bury myself in work, so what better timing than a day when I’m already swamped? Immediately, the ideas started flowing in. A big bag of sun-dried tomatoes provided the initial push, and from a quick internet search and some inspiration, it became an unstoppable impetus. Employing a decent measure of apple cider rather than straight sugar would help cut the sweetness, and a decent bite of vinegar can swing things back to the savory side of the street. Suddenly, this ketchup concept become entirely more appealing.

Unlike traditional ketchup recipes requiring hours of laborious stewing and stirring, the sun-dried tomatoes provide concentrated flavor right from the get go, and the recipe speeds right along. Amazingly, I do not hate this ketchup, which is high praise considering my previous disdain. I can’t say I’m about to slather it on everything that crosses my dinner plate, but those french fries we were talking about earlier? Bring them on.

Sun-Dried Tomato Ketchup
Adapted from Food and Wine

2 Cups Apple Cider
1 Cup (Dry, Not Oil Packed) Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Soaked in Hot Water for 30 Minutes and Drained
2/3 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
3/4 Teaspoon Mustard Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Generous Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Pinch Ground Cloves
1 Small Yellow Onion
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Teaspoon Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

This procedure hardly needs a written recipe, but here goes: Toss everything into your blender or a sturdy food processor, and puree until completely smooth. Scrape down the sides as need to make sure that everything is thoroughly pulverized. Transfer the mixture into a large sauce pan and set over medium heat. It may seem like too large of a pot, but this stuff bubbles and sputters like mad once it gets going, so the high sides are helpful for protecting the walls (and yourself) from gruesome blood-red splatters. Cook at a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes, until slightly thickened or at least less watery, stirring every couple of minutes to prevent burning. Move the whole batch back into your blender or food processor, and puree once more to ensure a perfectly smooth texture. Let cool completely before bottling and storing.

Bear in mind that since this homemade ketchup lacks the additives and preservatives of mainstream brands, you will need to shake it well before each use, as it can separate a bit as it sit. Additionally, it should be kept in the fridge, tightly sealed for no more than 1 month.

Makes About 3 Cups

Printable Recipe

Bonus! If that label caught your eye, you’re in luck! I’d like to share it with you for your own ketchup creations. Here are three color variations for whatever strikes your fancy, below. Just click on the image and print it out on sticker paper at a 6 x 4 size. Trim, and slap it on a 16-ounce glass bottle. I used a rinsed and dried GT Kombucha bottle, for size reference.


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Back to the Earth

“There’s fungus growing in our kitchen… and it’s a good thing,” she said falteringly. Posed more as a question than a statement, it was clear that my mom didn’t exactly welcome my latest addition with open arms. Truth be told, it freaked me out just a little bit, too.

The fungus in question were oyster mushrooms to be precise, a much sought-after wild variety that fetch a fair price at market, but still rank below the luxurious porcini and chantarelle. A self-professed mushroom lover, it seemed to crime to have never cooked with oyster mushrooms before, but the grocery budget can only accommodate the common button or cremini on a regular basis. As prices skyrocket, even portobellos have become a special occasion purchase. Thus, when Back to the Roots contacted me about giving one of their mushroom kits a test drive, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Grown on a rectangular cake of recycled coffee grounds, the spores are shipped with everything you need to start a mini mushroom farm in your home. Even though the instructions couldn’t be simpler, they also spell everything out in great detail through online videos, in case a serious mushroom novice lacks confidence. So, guaranteed to be a breeze, I slowly became concerned as the days passed and my moldy dirt looked unchanged, especially considering the fact that the box so boldly declares that a first harvest may be possible in only 10 days. On day 6, at long last, my little mushrooms appeared to awaken…

And from that point on, there was no turning back.

The rate at which they grew was borderline disturbing, and on many trips to the kitchen, they would literally have grown since last glance – We’re talking centimeters per hour at their height of their growth. The monster mushrooms simply exploded out of their flimsy plastic packaging. I had never seen anything like this. Both fascinating and alarming, I was now more enchanted with the growing process than the idea of eating them.

Still mourning the end of growing season, this unexpected thrill helped ease the transition, and seems like the perfect alternative to gardening in the colder months. The downside is that you can only start the mushrooms twice (once from each side of the box) and then it’s all over. Don’t think that you’ll achieve incredible yields and be rolling in mushrooms, either- Though it claims to produce 1 1/2 pounds of edibles, I would be hard pressed to say that I got even 1/2 pound out of mine. However, the novelty factor and environmentally friendly approach justifies the price tag, and it strikes me as the perfect gift for the foodie with everything.

[For a limited time, you can enter the discount code “mushrooms4me10″ when ordering online for 10% off and free shipping.]

Unable to make a grand feast of mushrooms with my small harvest, I chose instead to feature the oyster mushrooms prominently, using them as the base of a fun hors d’oeuvre, ideal for the impending holiday parties.

Just like their inspiration, Oysters Rockefeller, these gorgeous fungus are loaded with an herbaceous puree of garlic, parsley, scallions, and a bit of spinach for color. Enriched with a buttery finish, the bright flavors of the herbs combined with the savory, earthy flavor of the mushrooms is unforgettable. Why anyone would ever create this dish with slimy sea creatures instead is beyond me.

Oyster Mushrooms Rockefeller

12 Large Oysters Mushrooms

Olive Oil, to Coat

1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Firmly Packed
1 Stalk Celery, Roughly Chopped
2 Large Scallions, Green Parts Only, Chopped
1/4 Cup Chopped Parsley
1 Small Clove Garlic
2 Teaspoons Capers, Drained
1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
Dash Tabasco Sauce
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Fennel Seed
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Fresh Lemon Juice (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay out your mushrooms on the sheet, spaced evenly, and lightly brush with oil. Set aside.

In your food processor or blender, combine the spinach, celery, scallions, parsley, garlic, and capers. Blend thoroughly, until mostly smooth but still slightly coarse. No need to go crazy here, a bit of texture is a welcome thing.

Meanwhile, set a medium saute pan over moderate heat, and melt down the margarine along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once, liquefied, quickly whisk in the flour to fully moisten, and cook for 5 – 8 minutes until very lightly browned, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Slowly pour in the non-dairy milk while whisking, and cook for just another minute or so until thickened. Turn off the heat, and whisk in the Tabasco sauce, nutritional yeast, and ground fennel. Transfer the green contents of the blender or food processor, and add them into your roux. Stir well to combine and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pile the filling on top of your mushrooms; about 1 – 2 tablespoons, depending on the size of the mushroom. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender. Serve hot, with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice if desired.

Makes 12 Appetizer Servings

Printable Recipe

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