BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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In Loving Memory

Talk about a turbulent year. 2017 has generated more sensational headlines than the past decade altogether, and even with mere hours left on the clock, I wouldn’t count it out for churning up some new controversy yet. Eager to move ahead straight into the new year without looking back, leaving those lackluster memories far in the past, it’s essential to hit pause, resisting the relentless push forward, to reflect on just those low points. For perspective, we can better appreciate when things are genuinely good, and for knowledge, to prevent those same mistakes from being repeated once again.

In this case, I wanted to take a moment and say a final farewell to some of the dearly departed vegan establishments that we’ve lost in San Francisco in the short span of 12 months. While it’s a grueling industry where failure is much more common that success, especially in the long term, it feels particularly poignant to see so many personal favorites close their doors, despite the immense talent, support, and passion in the kitchen.

Encuentro is the establishment I find hardest to let go of. If you had asked me before, I would have easily placed it on my list of top three restaurants in the bay area, if not first place to begin with. Few fine dining establishments exist for those that eschew meat, dairy, and eggs, but you would never even consider what wasn’t present on the plate here. Execution was on par with that of any Michelin-starred restaurant, in my opinion, but without the pretension that goes along with such a lofty award. Fancy but not fussy, I can’t recall a single bad meal here. Generous platters of tender sweet potato gnocchi and dark, devilish chocolate cake will forever haunt my memory. The dream is not yet dead, though, as the otherwise vacant store front still plays host to periodic pop-up events.

No No Burger shocked fans when they announced the end of their glorious but shockingly brief run. After transitioning from an infrequent pop-up to a daily staple at the SoMa StrEat Food Park, the future seemed bright, especially considering the nearly universal rave reviews for their juicy meatless patties and decadent toppings, deeply savory and indulgent enough to satisfy the cravings of even the most staunch omnivores. Many considered their burger to be the bright spot in a dark, murky landscape of mediocre vegetable-based hockey pucks, leaving a gaping hole in the dining scene between the ultra meaty Impossible Burger and old-school bean burgers.

Photo from Elyse T. via Yelp

RAW – A Juice Company was so much more than just juice, contrary to the name. Offering a rainbow of produce painstakingly crafted into living cuisine, you couldn’t go wrong with a plate of raw lasagna or an abundant acai bowl. Judging by the active Facebook page, though, we may just see the next chapter to this story taking place in the topical islands of Hawaii. Only time will tell when, or if, these fresh finds will resurface.

Seed + Salt had a whole lot of heart for such a tiny place. Wedged into a storefront the size of a bread box in the Marina, not even the limited seating could detract from the experience of eating in. Fully gluten-free in addition to being vegan, eaters of all stripes could find sweet and savory treats to enjoy. The chickpea frittata, served solo, in a breakfast sandwich, or sliced atop a bountiful plant-based Cobb salad, was always hard for me to resist. It’s a simple yet satisfying entree that has inspired many attempts at replication by myself and others in the know.

The Plant Cafe, while still an apparently thriving business with no less than six bustling outposts under its belt, including one in the highly desirable SFO Terminal 2 space, has shuttered both the Burlingame and waterfront Embarcadero establishments. Citing the usual battery of labor shortages and skyrocketing rents, it’s just a relief that their light, healthy fare will still be available for visitors and locals alike. Their impeccably well-balanced grapefruit and avocado salad remains the highlight of any trip that necessitates a stop at the airport. If you find yourself at any of other sit-down cafes that offer a full menu of brunch choices on the weekends, you can’t go wrong with the pesto tofu scramble, either.

Photo by Celiac Community

3 Potato 4, once a small franchise with three locations scattered about the bay, has slowly been shuttering those outposts one by one. The last holdout was in the Pleasanton Stoneridge Shopping Center, but without any warning or confirmation, that store seems to have gone dark mere weeks ago. Dedicated to spreading the spud love, their simple menu offered an array of baked fries and sauce, with seasonal soups, plus soft serve to finish on a sweet note. For comfort food without all the grease and guilt, it was hard to beat this accessible, affordable option. Here’s hoping that the tides turn and this outage is but a brief blip in business as usual.

To these fallen friends that we leave behind in 2017, I’d like to raise a toast- Piled high with avocado, of course- And wish their proprietors all the best on their next big idea. May they find this fork in the road ultimately as fulfilling as the meals they once shared.

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Deep-Freeze Delights

Given my extreme aversion to even the slightest hint of cold temperatures, it can be quite challenging to placate the daily cravings for ice cream when the dark ages of winter arrive. Usually, it’s a battle of mind over matter, ignoring the chills that go down my spine, shivering through every sweet lick. Particularly bad cases will send me straight to the tea kettle for sips to thaw out of the inevitable brain freeze. The pain is always worth the pleasure, but surely, there must be a better way to sooth the more sensitive sweet tooth.

Not only is there a way to stay toasty and warm while snacking, but there’s an even healthier way to indulge, too. Froozer is a great tasting frozen snack made with 100%fruit – all the goodness and great taste of perfectly ripened fruits, with no added sugar, juice or concentrate. The moment I first tried these wholesome treats, I knew it would shake up my whole winter routine. First of all, these are not mere popsicles flavored with juice or concentrate, but fully blended fruits with nothing added nor taken away. Stunningly creamy and sweet without any sugar, each slow-churned flavor tastes as bright and fresh as a summer’s day. Before I knew it, I was even tossing them into smoothies for instant morning fuel, delicious enough to qualify as milkshakes.

Still, as the frigid winds howled with increasing volume outside, I found myself on the verge of a seriously hangry meltdown… When I realized that’s exactly what I should do. Since they’re made of simply whole fruits, each stick is like an instant flavor infusion for any recipe, ready in your freezer whenever you are. Thinking quickly and pulling ingredients from the pantry, it was a matter of minutes before a brand new cookie creation came to be.

An edible island escape, the sprightly combination of pineapple, mango, and banana found within each Tropical Sunset frozen fruit snack transforms a pile of shredded coconut into an nutritious and delicious bite of paradise. These coconut macaroons couldn’t be more simple to craft, which is why they suit this no-nonsense source of inspiration so well.

It might be tough to sacrifice that perfectly churned, creamy consistency by bringing up the temperature a bit, but once you taste these new, equally satisfying healthy confections, you won’t regret taking the risk.

This post was made possible thanks to Froozer and Mambo Sprouts.

Tropical Sunset Coconut Macaroons

1/4 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
6 Froozer Tropical Sunset Frozen Snacks, Thawed
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Shredded Coconut

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the melted coconut oil, thawed Froozer snacks, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Add in the shredded coconut and stir thoroughly to combine. Once the whole mixture is homogeneous, scoop out cookies with a small ice cream scoop and place on a small sheet pan. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour, or expedite the process by stashing them in the freezer for 20 minutes. Store in an air-tight container either in the fridge or in a cool, dark place. The cookies will keep for 5 – 7 days.

Makes 12 – 15 Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Perfect Party Pearings

Take a deep breath: You’ve survived another grueling round of holiday merriment. Feasts have been devoured and mountains of torn wrapping paper lay in ruin. It may very well look like a bomb went off in the living room, complete with tinsel shrapnel and carpet stains that will haunt you for the rest of your days, but the deed has been done, the festivities successfully completed.

But before you lock the doors tight, entering into full hibernation mode, don’t forget that one last hurrah remains. In less than one week’s time, the calendar mandates yet another grand celebration, demanding every last iota of enthusiasm remaining following the Christmas craze. With dishes still stacked precariously in the sink, it’s a lot to consider. For the New Year, however, it’s time to give yourself a gift if you’re bold enough to take the reins as host or hostess once again, and just take it easy.

Skip the elaborate dinner menu in favor of simple, snackable small plates. Your guests are undoubtedly worn out from holiday excesses as well, happily munching at a slower pace while enjoying each others’ company. Crostini (or bruschetta, if you prefer) are the ideal vehicle for any sort of sweet or savory toppings, so for my festive suggestion, I would like to raise a literal and figurative toast to both ends of the taste spectrum.

A golden platform of crusty bread supports a creamy, rich schmear of cream cheese, contrasted by the tender, sweet, and slightly tart bite of pomegranate-infused pears. Sturdy enough to withstand advanced prep and a full evening at ambient temperature, these understated yet spectacular little morsels are your ideal party guests. They’re guaranteed to never overstay their welcome, either.

Pomegranate and Pear Crostini

Pomegranate Poached Pears:

3 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
1 Cup 100% Apple Juice
1/3 Cup Maple Syrup
1 Whole Vanilla bean, Split and Scraped
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
4 Firm Bartlett, Anjou or Bosc Pears, Peeled, Halved, and Cored

For Assembly:

1 Baguette, Sliced Thinly and Toasted
1 Cup Vegan Cream Cheese, Store-Bought or Homemade
1 Pomegranate, Arils Removed

Combine the pomegranate juice, apple juice, maple syrup, vanilla bean seeds, and black pepper in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Serve the spent vanilla bean pods for making vanilla sugar, or another recipe.

Bring the liquid bring to a gentle simmer and add the pears. Cover and cook for 20 – 30 minutes, until the pears are just fork-tender. Remove the fruit from the saucepan and chill thoroughly before slicing. Don’t toss the excess poaching liquid- It’s fantastic mixed with a bit of chilled champagne for your New Year’s toast.

To assemble, spread the slices of toasted baguette generously with cream cheese and top each one with a slice of poached pear. Finish with a sprinkle of pomegranate arils and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 16 – 24 Servings

Printable Recipe


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One Tough Cookie Contest

Judging any sort of food competition sounds like a pretty cushy job at first glance. You get to taste all sorts of exotic delights, compare and contrast, ultimately laying down the official ruling on which entry takes the cake- Or cookie, as was the case for the 2017 VegNews Holiday Cookie Contest. However, I don’t envy the ruling critics on this panel, tasting their way through an onslaught of sweet morsels, every one of them with the potential to win hearts, if not the entire competition. Luckily, such agonizing decisions were not mine to make, as I merely provided photos for the feature while relishing the end results on my own terms. No need to pick favorites between these three; you’ll be a winner no matter which treats end up on Santa’s plate!

Officially, first place went to the classy and classic Chocolate-Dipped Almond Cranberry Shortbread Cookies by Rosie Scott-Benson. This cookie pairs an irresistibly buttery shortbread cookie with rich chocolate for a winning combination.

Coming in at a close second, Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal Cream Pies by Mary-Kate Lynch are lightly spiced, soft and sweet; sure to be a hit at your holiday parties, and beyond.

Third but far from last, the Dirty Chai Sugar Cookies by Amy McDonough may honestly have been my personal favorites from this round. These are tender, chewy cookies infused with warming chai spices and topped with a creamy espresso-spiked frosting. Honestly, does it get much better than that? I think that even Santa would forgive you for scarfing down the whole batch before he has time to shimmy down the chimney.

Given the diverse array of tempting last-minute additions, are you changing up your holiday cookie game this year? What’s going on your platters, and tell the truth: Are you really planning on sharing with Santa? There’s no shame is giving yourself a little gift of sweetness as well!


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Sift Happens

Antiquated; rarely retrieved from the back of the kitchen drawer, hidden behind stacks of nested mixing bowls and precariously arranged ceramic plates; even less commonly found in the first place with every passing year. The metal tin can sits alone in the dark, quietly collecting dust instead of churning through those fine particles as it was intended. I would ask what ever happened to sifters, but it’s no mystery to anyone who’s puttered about the stove for a minute of their lives. Once an essential piece of equipment, the simple sifter has fallen clear off the list of staples and straight into the recycling bin along with the empty cardboard boxes and discarded instruction manuals of every electronic purchase of decades past. As time rushes forward, no one wants to slow down long enough to simply sift.

Guilty of the same negligence, I’m not one to point fingers here. Even when a recipe clearly states “flour, sifted,” I’ll breeze right past that specification, pretending that a quick whisk or prodding with a fork with do the trick. Fluffy up the top layer of sediment, breakdown the pesky clumps, get on with the task at hand. No harm, no foul. Cakes still manage to emerge properly risen, pie dough comes out as butter and flaky as ever, and no one is the wiser to my procedural omission. But the point of sifting isn’t to make something adequate, to craft something that passes as edible. Such a low standard shouldn’t be considered a true success. Without sifting, untold heights will never be attained, and more importantly, so many less savory bits end up jumping into the pool, doing their best cannon ball to ruin the whole party.

Have you ever bitten into a luscious, devilishly dark chocolate cake, relished the intensity of flavor and tender crumb, only to discover a powdery mouthful of unincorporated cocoa in the very next forkful? A common pitfall, quite forgivable in most cases, but entirely avoidable. Why can’t we just take an extra minute to pull out that old fashioned sifter and wade through the murky mixture to remove those unwanted interlopers? Like overenthusiastic ideas or overwritten novels, why can’t we edit our actions accordingly to cut down on the messes left in our wake? In that same spirit, where is the mental sifter for our anxieties, our baseless fears, our unfiltered, indiscriminate consumption of all the junk we’re fed? I get indigestion just thinking about all those unchecked contaminants.

Let’s stop pretending like those lumpy, cracked loaves are exactly what we intended to pull out of the oven. They’re fine, perfectly okay, but we should really demand more of our baked goods, and of ourselves. Bring back the sifter, allow extra time to churn through the list of dry ingredients, watch the fine powder fall like snow, soft and fresh, into the batter. Feel the resistance of the creaky springs snapping back as we release our grip, squeeze and release, squeeze and release, showering small flurries downward with each motion. Take a peek inside when the full measure has been dispensed, and with great pleasure, discard the excess. Leave out the bad, the unnecessary, the mischievous interlopers that bring fragile pastries down. Sift once for due diligence, sift twice if you’re feeling particularly reflective. It doesn’t hurt to comb through the full recipe before setting it to bake. What goes in matters just as much as what doesn’t.


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The Other Wheat Meat

Living “High on the Hog” has always meant enjoying the finer things in life, originally in reference to the choicest cuts of meat found on the upper half of the animal, which almost always meant one thing: ham. For many, a holiday just isn’t a proper celebration without a lavish roast on the table to both flaunt and share their prosperity. Such deeply ingrained customs are slowly evolving right alongside the shifting landscape of food preferences, so it was only a matter of time before someone was bold enough to take this tradition to task. I can’t think of any company more qualified to do so than Tofurky.

Makers of the original alternative roast, touting veganism before it was cool, Tofurky hasn’t stopped innovating since that fateful first product launch over 30 years ago. Trussed in genuine butcher’s twine and accordingly crosshatched by the pressure, the Vegetarian Ham Roast plays along to fit the bill, albeit on a much smaller scale. This beige football is said to feed five, but presumably a full feast with additional side dishes could stretch that number if need be.

Sharing many qualities with the classic turkey substitute, this porkless roast thaws out from a frozen state to meet a toasty preheated oven for about 1 1/2 hours of cooking. The biggest difference is that this rendition has no stuffing inside, but exterior embellishment instead. Included in the box is an “Extra Special Beer Glaze;” a thick syrup featuring Hopworks Velvet ESB, with a slightly granular texture owing to the inclusion of coarse, stone ground mustard. Make no mistake, it’s very sweet, first and foremost, but ultimately a good contrast to the saltiness of the roast.

That said, I had other plans for my roast and decided against the glaze, in favor of a more nuanced, herbaceous root beer brine, playing off the complex spices from the soda and contrasting with the savory heft of the roast. Dense, chewy, and quite solid, the texture is best when sliced thinly. No one would mistake it for meat, no doubt about that, but it’s a welcome departure from the standard faux-fowl or straight soybean fare for more festive occasions. Additionally, leftovers are brilliant additions to typically porky dishes, like a simple pot of creamy white beans or split pea soup. Since ham isn’t an entree that I encountered frequently as a child, it resonates more as a flavorful, protein-packed new ingredient than a whole entree for me.

That’s why I was especially excited to play around with the extra slices to make mock chashu, a Japanese form of marinated pork belly. Fanned out atop a bowlful of hot, steaming ramen, the visual and flavorful impact was quite stunning. Even with my otherwise humble assortment of vegetables cobbled together out of the pantry, this meal became an instant, unforgettable hit thanks to that exceptional meatless inclusion.

As further recipe experimentation has proven, this new plant-based ham roast provides more than just an annual comestible experience, but a promising year-round addition to anyone’s daily menu.

Root Beer Brined Ham

1 12-Ounce Bottle (1 1/2 Cups) Sugar-Sweetened Root Beer
1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Black Peppercorns
1 Teaspoon Brown Mustard Seeds
1/2 Teaspoon Whole Allspice Berries
1/2 Teaspoon Whole Cloves
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
1 Tofurky Ham Roast

Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized pan and bring to a vigorous boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate and let the roast marinate for at least 12 hours, but ideally 24 or even 48 if you can bare the wait.

To cook, bake the roast in a preheated 350 degree oven for 75 – 90 minutes, until golden brown on the outside and hot all the way through. Meanwhile, set the leftover brine back on the stove and simmer until reduced to a thick, syrupy sauce.

Slice thinly and serve with the root beer reduction on the side.

Makes 5 Servings

Printable Recipe

Chashu

3/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Red Miso Paste
2 Tablespoons Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Mirin
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Sliced
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Tofurky Ham Roast

Just like the previous preparation, this procedure couldn’t be simpler. Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized pan and bring to a vigorous boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate and let the roast marinate for at least 8 hours.

Slice thinly and add to your favorite bowl of ramen noodles to serve. The warmth of the soup should reheat the slices without any additional cooking necessary.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe