BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Market Fresh

Saturday mornings are the highlight of every week, bearing the promise of exciting adventures around this fine city, without arduous classes encumbering an already overloaded schedule. No matter where the day takes me, each new exploit always begins in the same place: The Ferry Building farmers market, arguably the most renown year-round source for fresh produce in San Francisco proper, drawing locals and tourists alike. It would be easy to make a full meal of the generous samples, ranging from buttery avocados to sweet dark cherries, but there’s so much more than just fruits and vegetables on offer. Time your visit correctly and you’ll cross paths with some inspiring bay area chefs, freely divulging secret recipes thanks to CUESA‘s Market to Table program.

Featuring the season’s best and freshest offerings, it’s always a treat to see what the innovative food luminaries in the area bring to the plate, and even better when you can get a free taste. The Plant Cafe is a common stop on my market trips, since their Embarcadero outpost is a mere two piers away, so I was especially thrilled when reigning chef Sascha Weiss appeared on the demo schedule.

Presenting chickpea panisse in a whole new light, Mr. Weiss has elevated the concept from french fry-alternative to an elegant plated hors d’oeuvre. Piled high with tender asparagus and mushrooms singing with umami flavor, the whole composition is a shining example of why eating fresh and seasonal is always best. That said, if you make just one part of this dish, it must be the pistachio-pea purée. Somewhere between a pesto and a sauce, the richness of the nuts boosts the sweetness of the tender peas to create a creamy, sublime experience. Rather than reaching for the standard hummus, I think I’ll just call this a dip next time a snack craving hits.

Chickpea Panisse with Pistachio-Pea Purée, Asparagus, and Maitake Mushrooms
Adapted from Chef Sascha Weiss of The Plant Café Organic

Chickpea Panisse:
4 Cups Water
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 1/4 Cups Garbanzo Bean Flour
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Whole Cumin Seed, Toasted and Ground
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
Neutral Vegetable Oil, for Frying

Mushrooms:
8 Ounces Maitake Mushrooms, Cleaned and Halved Through the Stems
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Asparagus:
16 Stalks Asparagus, Trimmed and Bottom 1/3 of Stalks Peeled
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Pistachio-Pea Purée:
2 Cups Sliced Leeks (Washed, Cut 1/4-Inch Thick)
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Shelled Pistachios
1/2 Cup Shelled English Peas, Blanched
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

Garnish:
1 Cup Arugula, Pea Tendrils, or Other Tender Greens
1 Radish, Sliced Very Thin
2 Teaspoons Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
1/4 Cup Vegan “Goat Cheese” (Optional)

For the panisse: Bring the water, salt, and olive oil to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add the garbanzo flour, whisking so it doesn’t form lumps. Ass the lemon juice, lemon zest, cumin, and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan; about 10 minutes. Pour the batter into a greased pan and allow it to cool to room temperature. Slice into desired shapes and pan fry in oil until golden.

For the mushrooms: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the sliced mushrooms, olive oil, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Lay the mushrooms out on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and roast for 15 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. Leave the oven on and set the mushrooms aside.

For the asparagus: Toss the asparagus together with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Lay the spears on a sheet pan or baking pan and roast in the oven until soft but not mushy; about 5 minutes. Set aside.

For the purée: In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the leeks in olive oil until softened; about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until golden. Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender. Add the remaining ingredients, thinning with water as needed to achieve a purée that is silky-smooth and can be spooned on a plate without turning into a soupy puddle.

To finish: Place 2 – 3 stalks of asparagus on each plate. Top each with a piece of chickpea panisse, spoon some of the purée on top, and add a piece or two of roasted mushroom. Toss the greens with olive oil, sliced radish, salt, and pepper. Add the dressed greens to the plate and crumble a small amount of the vegan cheese on top, if desired.

Makes 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Spring Produce Spotlight: Green Almonds

Standing tall and pert in rows a dozen deep, forests of asparagus cover the tables at farmers markets as far as the eye can see. Classic harbingers of spring, their appearance signals a definitive end to winter, as though the slender green stalks had slain the seasonal demon themselves. Deep green, royal purple, ghostly white; all colors were represented on this early April day, each bundling growing more enticing, glowing more vibrantly in the rising morning sun than the last. With a heavy bag straining under the weight of this spring plunder, it would be easy to call it a day, feeling quite content with a delicious, albeit rather predictable haul. Don’t make that mistake. Delve further into the booths, interrogate the farmers if you need to, and seek out rarer treasures. For a window of about three to four weeks, green almonds may be hiding in plain sight at your local markets, amassed in humble little piles or collected in small baskets, just behind the more popular fare. Off-putting fuzzy exteriors belie a firm, crunchy texture, wholly edible and entirely delicious from the outside shell to kernel. Their short window of availability is dictated by the maturation of the almond, transforming the fresh fruit into the crunchy nut we all know and love. Leading with a pleasantly bitter taste, the overriding flavor is that of lemons and cucumbers, sometimes with a hint of tart grape in the background. Juicy yet crisp, they’re impossibly addictive when eaten with just a light pinch of salt. Sure, you could chop them up and add them to salads, use them for garnishes on chilled soups, or otherwise toss them into any raw or cooked preparation you see fit, but they’re best when allowed to shine solo. At most, go ahead and cure them in a lightly sweet and sour brine, and you’ll have the stuff of pickle plate dreams. One would never mistake them for the roasted almonds they may one day become, which is part of the appeal. You may think you know the common nuts, but catch them on the unripe side and you’ll have a whole new snacking sensation in store.


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Pea-Brained

To say that I’ve been feeling a bit scattered lately would be putting it lightly. Silly little oversights have punctuated the last couple of days, spicing up the mundane routine with strange surprises sprinkled here and there. Dirty dishes some how find their way back into cupboards, unwashed; recipe components are completed, and then forgotten until the meal is fully devoured; days seep through my fingers like water, obliterating a once rigid posting schedule. Nothing to be alarmed about, but it’s clear that running on autopilot is not serving my needs particularly well lately. “Pea-brained” would describe the situation quite nicely, and not just because of my increasingly dimwitted mistakes. Spring is on my mind, driving me to the point of distraction. Longer, brighter days captivate me while simultaneously throwing off my finely tuned rhythm, and the influx of fresh, vibrant produce easily overwhelms my senses. What to eat first? Where to go, what to do? Every winter seems interminable, so when it finally relinquishes its icy grip, it feels like a brand new world out there.

The best cure for seasonal disorientation is immersion, so let’s jump right in and celebrate the other reason for my pea-brained state: Peas! In all their green glory, this simple salad combines snow peas, pea shoots, and English peas to showcase their myriad textures, flavors, and shapes. The rather silly, rhyming title doesn’t fully do this combination justice, but was unavoidable thanks to the matcha tea-infused dressing, lending equal parts bitterness and sweetness to the blend.

In case you’re suffering from an equally pea-brained daze, a heaping helping of this bright, fresh homage to the humble pea might just be the antidote.

Three Pea Tea Salad

6 Ounces Snow Peas, Thinly Sliced on the Diagonal
4 Ounces Pea Shoots
8 Ounces Raw English Peas

Green Tea Dressing:

2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Tablespoon Yellow Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1/2 Teaspoon Matcha Powder
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

I think you can already see how this one should come together, but in case you need someone to hold your hand, here’s the rundown: Toss the sliced snow peas, pea shoots, and English peas together in a large bowl. Separately whisk together all of the ingredients for the green tea dressing, beating the mixture thoroughly until smooth. Pour it all over the vegetables, tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately!

Makes 3 – 4 Side Dish-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe


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Pavlovian Conditioning

Fancy and flour-free, it’s unlikely that you’d find any dessert better suited for Passover than the classic pavlova. Crispy meringue cradles whipped cream and fresh fruits, creating a simultaneously light and rich sensation all in one bite. Based heavily on egg whites and dairy, this versatile treat is surprisingly easy to veganize while remaining every bit as luscious. Pictured above is a miniature interpretation, perfect for a single serving so that no one has to share.

It all starts with the Meringue Cookies on page 191 of Vegan Desserts, piped in small nest shapes with a large star tip. For a particularly spring-y rendition, the addition of lemon zest for flavor and a tiny pinch of turmeric for a sunny yellow hue does wonders to perk up the plain vanilla base. After baking for the time as written, just drop down the oven temperature to 250 and bake for an additional 15 – 20 minutes longer to yield perfectly crisp shells, through and through. Once cooled, simply fill the indentation of each little cookie with a dollop of whipped coconut cream and a handful of ripe berries to seal the deal.

The combination of crunchy lemon cookie, creamy whipped coconut, and juicy berries will undoubtedly have all your guests drooling.


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Pretty in Pink

May the record show that despite previous protestation, I honestly do have nothing against the union of strawberry and rhubarb. They’re a great couple who seem genuinely happy together, so who am I to break them up? Sure, it wouldn’t hurt for either to have a bit more alone time, maybe see a few other people on the side, but I won’t begrudge their magnetism to each other. Rather, it might be wiser to invite a new ingredient or two to the party in order to liven up the typical date night.

White chocolate cheesecake is the ideal sweet compliment to their tart, fruity flavor. Flecked with vanilla bean, lusciously rich and creamy, it seemed a shame to bake that base into a solid brick, so a simple parfait was in order. Crunchy graham cracker streusel makes up the base, lightly spiced with a touch of warm, comforting cinnamon, immediately followed by the rhubarb compote, infused with cardamom, ginger, and a hint of zesty orange. The real star of the show, the white chocolate cheesecake mousse, comes together in a snap, and is decadent enough to go well with just about any fruit or cookie combo. A dice of fresh strawberries on top keeps things light and refreshing, but it’s hard to resist one final flourish of mousse to top it all off.

It’s spring in a glass, complete with those star-crossed lovers strawberry and rhubarb, a delicious duo if there ever was one.

Spring Cheesecake Parfaits

Graham Cracker Streusel:

9 Rectangle Graham Crackers (1 Sleeve)
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Rhubarb Compote:

1 1/2 Pounds Chopped Rhubarb, Divided
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Orange Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom

White Chocolate Cheesecake Mousse:

6 Ounces Vegan White Chocolate, Homemade Chunks or Store-Bought Chips
1/4 Cup Vegan “Creamer”
2 8-Ounce Packages Vegan “Cream Cheese”
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract*
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

1/2 – 1 Pound Fresh Strawberries, Hulled and Diced

*I used my homemade white chocolate, which is what gave it those lovely vanilla bean specks. If you opt for the store-bought alternative, you may wish to use vanilla bean paste or 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped, for the same visual effect.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silpat; set aside.

Break up the graham crackers and toss the pieces into your food processor. Pulse until mostly broken down, with a few larger chunks remaining. Add in the melted margarine, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse to combine. Spread out the resulting crumbs into small clumps on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until golden brown. Let cool.

Meanwhile, you can get the compote started. Set a medium saucepan on the stove over moderate heat, and mix together 1 pound of the rhubarb along with the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture up to a simmer, and let the rhubarb stew for 10 – 15 minutes, until broken down and jammy. Add in the remaining measure of rhubarb, and simmer for an additional 5 – 10 minutes, just until tender. This will give the compote a nice variety of textures. Let cool and chill thoroughly before using.

Finally, for the cheesecake portion, place the chunks of chips of white chocolate in a microwave-safe dish, and pour the “creamer” on top. Microwave for 1 – 2 minutes at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each heating. White chocolate can be stubborn about melting, so be patient and keep a close eye on the mixture so that it doesn’t burn. Once it’s burnt, there’s no fixing it.

Place the “cream cheese,” vanilla extract, and salt in your (washed and dried) food processor, and blend to combine. Pour in the melted white chocolate, and thoroughly puree, until completely smooth and all ingredients are incorporated. If it seems to loose to pipe, chill for 30 minutes before proceeding.

To assemble your parfaits, find 6 – 8 matching glasses, and start with a spoonful or two of the streusel at the bottom. Top that with a good layer of the compote, and then pipe or spoon over a layer of the cheesecake mousse. Cover that with an even layer of diced strawberries, and if desired, finish with one final dollop of mousse. Garnish with halved strawberries and mint leaves for extra flair. Serve chilled.

Makes 6 – 8 Parfaits

Printable Recipe


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Rah, Rah, Rhubarb!

If rhubarb were playing on a team, would anyone actually cheer for it? A sad, unloved vegetable with an identity crisis, rhubarb is always paired up with the show-stealing strawberry, smothered by sweetness, and thrown into the game more as an afterthought than a star. You’d think that after years of strawberry-rhubarb pies and strawberry-rhubarb crumbles, more bakers would take a chance on letting the red stalks stand alone for once, but no, perish the thought! Rhubarb is bitter, unpalatable, and unable to carry a proper dessert without help from something more flavorful. In fact, this silent player is hardly even a staple for standard grocery stores. Upon asking a produce department worker if they had any early season rhubarb yet, I was looked at as if I had requested a vegan angel food cake. Forget about having never heard of it, this person (who specializes in fresh fruits and vegetables, mind you) couldn’t even decipher what I was saying. Rubbage? Rubar? Well, I’ll take that as a “no,” then.

But rhubarb isn’t some awful ingredient to be either avoided or covered up, like an embarrassing pet stain on the living room carpet. When treated with respect, it makes for perfectly delicious desserts, as is evidenced by these bright, springy cupcakes. Luck would have it that I eventually found a bag of frozen rhubarb, of all things, and so I set right to work redeeming this misunderstood plant.

Topped off with a simple vanilla bean frosting so as not to take over and cover that delicate rhubarb flavor, these little numbers are further beautified by candied violets. Incredibly hard to find and even harder to transport intact, I had been saving up these precious edibles for quite some time now, so it’s a good thing they’re well-preserved by sugar. Such an ornate garnish is far from necessary though- The rhubarb really does sell these treats all by itself.

Rhubarb Cupcakes

2 Cups Chopped Rhubarb, Fresh or Frozen and Thawed
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Orange Juice
1/3 Cup Canola Oil
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Vanilla Bean Frosting:

1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Paste or Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line 14 cupcake tins with decorative papers. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, combine the rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Let stew, stirring periodically, for about 10 – 15 minutes, until the rhubarb becomes so tender that it pretty much falls apart. If necessary, mash it lightly with your spatula to help it break down. Allow the rhubarb to cool for 15 minute before proceeding.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda. Stir the orange juice, oil, and vanilla into the rhubarb mixture, and then add all of those liquids into the bowl of flour. Stir with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together smoothly; a few small lumps remaining are no reason for alarm. Just be sure not to over-mix, or you’ll create a tough cake.

Dole out the batter equally between your prepared cupcake tins, and slide them into the oven. Bake for 18 minutes, until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Let cool completely before applying the frosting.

For the frosting, throw room temperature margarine into your mixer, and beat thoroughly until softened. Add in the confectioner’s sugar and start mixing on a low speed to prevent the dry goods from flying out of the work bowl. Add in the vanilla paste or extract, and slowly drizzle in the non-dairy milk, until the frosting reaches a smooth but still firm consistency. Whip on high speed for about 5 minutes until fluffy. Pipe or spread on cupcakes as desired.

Makes 14 Cupcakes

Printable Recipe

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