BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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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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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Read My Lips (Lippy Girl GIVEAWAY!)

Makeup, hair, wardrobe, and modeling by Melisser Eliott.

Makeup is far from my field of expertise. Though fascinated by it from an early age, that intrigue never translated into successful application, and my skills remain limited to the basics. Luckily, lipstick is one cosmetic option that even I can handle, which is why finding brands that are ethical and non-toxic has been imperative. Master makeup artist Melisser Elliot gets all the credit for hooking me up with Lippy Girl, and flaunting their “Son of a Brick” Vegocentric Organic Vegan Lipstick so stunningly in the above photo shoot.

Without resorting to carmine and beeswax, add a bold splash of color to your own ensemble with shades to match any outfit, no matter how avant-garde or conventional. In case you’re not feeling quite so daring, rest assured that many shades are quite sheer with buildable coverage. Which lipstick color would you choose from the vibrant, variegated options? Let me know in a comment and you could win it, along with a tube of Extra Virgin Lip Gloss! Don’t forget to hop over and log your submission on the official giveaway form, and find more ways to rack up entries for a better chance to win big. This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada, and will run until Thursday, May 14th. Good luck!


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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 renowned 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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Meals of the Millennium

It’s truly the end of an era as Millennium closes its doors for the final time in downtown San Francisco. After more than two decades of sharing space with Hotel California, this eminent establishment of vegan fine dining has outgrown its original outpost and is ready to leave the nest. Relocating to Rockridge in preparation for a June re-opening, it won’t be long before San Francisco will be treated to Chef Eric Tucker’s unique take on fresh, seasonal produce once again. I’ve had the incredible fortune and privilege of eating my way through a serious portion of the ever-changing menu, each dish a thoughtful composition of flavors and textures, sparkling under the romantic, warm lights. I’d like to think that this first twenty years is only the very start, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of the new East Bay kitchen.

Some of the specifics may have fallen victim to my terrible memory, the details lost in time, but the flavors and experiences are all utterly unforgettable. I, for one, am looking forward to a brand new Millennium.

Dyan’s “Whole Lotta Lovage” Limeade (left); cucumber, lovage, mint, lime, soda. Steve’s “Wanna Meet that Dad” BBQ Negroni (right); mezcal, gran classico & sweet vermouth, aged with oak and chipotle chile, fried onion

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