Everything or Nothing

Allegedly, according to surveys of questionable origin, the most popular type of bagel worldwide is plain. Yes, plain. In a world rife with fake news, this shocking proclamation is one that I find most difficult to believe. Has anyone ever raved about a plain bagel in any restaurant review? Are there bakeries out there at risk of selling out of this most austere option? Honestly, when was the last time you willingly ate a plain bagel, excluding the sad occasions when it was sole occupant languishing in the bread basket?

Falling entirely on the opposite side of the spectrum, the case for the everything bagel is a strong one. Brazen and fearless in its combination of savory seasonings, no person in their right mind would decline such savory complexity. Such heresy would be akin to ordering mapo tofu, but asking for it mild. A bagel without everything is nothing.

It’s a suitably audacious statement for such a bold blend, but I’m not alone in this judgement. Spreading a trail of seeded crumbs across the culinary landscape, the “everything bagel” has become a flavor in and of itself, spawning truly creative interpretations of the concept far beyond the original yeasted ring. The Everything Bagel Salad in Real Food, Really Fast remains a stand-out dish among fans, but today, I’m bringing it back down to the bakers bench, with just a little twist.

Make that a literal twist. Boiled rings aren’t the only sort of bread that can have it all. Buttery, tender babka dough forgoes the typical sweet adornments to get in touch with its salty side. Swirled and rippled with thick lashings of cream cheese, awash in a speckled sea of everything seasoning, each rich slice presents the complete package. Toast if you must, but as is the case with the original, fresh is simply best.

That said, cutting those slabs down a bit thinner to make a sandwich with extra cream cheese, carrot lox, dill, and capers isn’t such a terrible deviation from the plan…

I’m proud to submit this bread to the 12th annual World Bread Day celebration. I haven’t missed a single crumb-covered observance in the history of BitterSweet, and don’t plan to turn in my dough hook anytime soon. Scores of yeasted inspiration will be posted soon, so keep an eye out for the official roundup… But maybe, just maybe, don’t browse while hungry.

World Bread Day, October 16, 2018

Everything Bagel Babka

Savory Babka Dough:

1 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 (1/4 Ounce) Packet (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/4 Cup Olive Oil or Melted Vegan Butter
3 1/2 – 4 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt

Cream Cheese Filling:

1 (8-Ounce Package) Vegan Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Everything Bagel Seasoning, Store-Bought or Homemade

“Egg” Wash:

2 Tablespoons Aquafaba

Gently warm the coconut milk to just above room temperature (no hotter than 100 degrees at most) along with the sugar. Sprinkle in the yeast and let sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast re-activates in a happy, foamy froth.

Mix in the aquafaba and olive oil or melted vegan butter, stirring well to combine, before adding the first 3 1/2 cups of flour and salt. Incorporate all of the dry mixture, using a stand mixer to knead on low speed for about 5 minutes with the dough hook attachment. To knead by hand, plan on spending closer to 10 minutes. Add more flour as needed to achieve a smooth, tacky but not sticky dough.

Round the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, rest in a warm spot, and let rise until doubled in volume; about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.

Press down the dough and divide it into two equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece into a rectangle of about 14 x 10 inches and smear half of the cream cheese all over the surface. Sprinkle evenly with half of the everything bagel seasoning, and then roll it tightly, lengthwise, like you would for cinnamon buns. Repeat with the remaining dough and fillings.

Once you have two filled logs, use a very sharp knife to slice both cleanly down the middle, leaving the bottom intact. Twist the two split rolls together and tuck the messy ends underneath. Place the full loaf in a lightly grease 8 x 4-inch loaf pan and lightly cover with a clean dish towel. Let rise for another hour.

As you near the end of this second rise, begin preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Gently brush the loaf with aquafaba, and bake for 60 – 75 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 1 Loaf

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You’re a Peach, My Dear

Few things can match the sensation of biting into a ripe, fresh peach at the height of summer, so juicy that it must be eaten over a sink. Soft fuzz easily gives way to tender flesh brilliantly sweet, floral, and aromatic. It’s a perfect dessert, all by itself, no garnishes need apply.

Sadly but surely, the seasons are marching onward, away from this most wonderful time of year. Don’t miss your chance to indulge in the last of this year’s harvest.

These delightfully chewy cookie bars present another way to enjoy these incomparable fruits, even if the selection isn’t quite as robust. Toasted pecans and fresh peaches, the star of the show, lend these treats a gentle Southern accent. Each sweet square is lightly caramelized through the baking process, ending with a rich, toffee-like flavor.

Southern Peach Streusel Bars

Peach Filling:

5 Ripe Peaches, Divided
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

Cookie Base and Streusel:

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose or White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Finely Ground Pecan or Almond Meal
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk
3/4 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

First, prepare the filling so that it has time to cool. Begin by removing the pits from four of your peaches, and roughly chopping the flesh before tossing it into your food processor along with the sugar and cornstarch. Blend thoroughly until smooth, and then transfer the puree into a medium sauce pan. Set on the stove over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture has thickened significantly and bubbles are breaking regularly on the surface. Turn off the heat, and incorporate the vanilla and ginger. Set aside and let cool.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, lightly grease 9 x 13-inch baking pan; Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor, beat the butter briefly to soften. Add in the brown sugar and thoroughly cream together with the margarine, until fluffy and homogeneous. Sift in the flour, pecan or almond meal, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt, and mix on low speed to combine. The resulting mixture will be rather dry, so with the mixer running. slowly drizzle in the non-dairy milk, a teaspoon at a time, using just enough to bring everything together into a cohesive dough when pressed.

Take 2/3 of that dough and crumble it across the bottom of your prepared pan. Use your fingers to press it out into one even layer that will form the base. If you don’t have enough to cover the bottom, you can use a bit more of the dough, but bear in mind that the base shouldn’t be too thick. Bake in your preheated oven for 12 – 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, take your chopped pecans, and knead them into the remaining dough to create the streusel topping.

Once the base is ready, remove it from the oven, and evenly spread the cooled peach filling on top. Pit and roughly chop the one remaining peach, and scatter it across the peach jam filling. Finally, use your fingers to break apart clumps of streusel, and sprinkle them over the peaches. Slide the pan bake into the oven, and bake for another 20 – 25 minutes, until aromatic and the streusel is golden brown all over. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 24 – 30 Bars

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Raise a Toast

No one bats an eye at $4 toast anymore. Once the greatest offense to pragmatic diners, such an expense seems downright affordable, especially in a city where you’d easily pay twice as much just for street parking three blocks away. Fancy toast has become the new normal, not an affront to sensibility, but a dish to celebrate for its simplicity. Proper toast celebrates each ingredient, starting with the best and brings out its full character. Thick sliced bread, crisped to a burnished golden brown all over, piled high with impeccably fresh fruits or vegetables, flavors are layered and carefully built, often with even more care than the standard American breakfast plate.

Toast toppings are as diverse as the people making them, which is both good and bad news for the avid eater. Order something as unassuming as toast, such a ubiquitous offering, and for all the sweet and savory surprises that could arrive at your table, you’d never get bored. So many choices could just as easily overwhelm, however, paralyzing the indecisive at their most vulnerable, food-deprived moment- At least that’s the case for me. Worse is when I’m making toast at home, given the full range of ingredients tucked away in the pantry and fridge, with no energy to figure out the best combinations.

For anyone else who feels that same struggle, let’s simplify the already uncomplicated concept. Focusing on a nut butter base to narrow the scope and make this more managable, I’ve come up with scores of effortless pairings based on what lurks in my pantry most of the time. Needless to say, this is just the beginning of an endless tale. One could, and many already have, written cookbooks on the subject, so I present to you here just the tried-and-true favorites, the best of the best, that keep my bread crisp and my stomach content.

  • The Elvis: Peanut butter with banana slices and coconut bacon.
  • Birthday Cake: Cashew butter mixed with a drop of vanilla extract, topped with turbinado sugar and sprinkles.
  • Cookie Dough: Cashew butter mixed with a tiny bit of oat flour, a drop of vanilla extract, topped with chocolate chips and a pinch of coarse sea salt.
  • Super Seed: Sunflower seed butter topped with toasted pepitas, hulled hemp seeds, chia seeds, and a very light drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Coarse sea salt optional.
  • Chocolate-Covered Cherries: Almond butter mixed with cocoa powder, topped with pitted fresh cherries or cherry preserves, drizzled with chocolate syrup.
  • Nutella: Hazelnut butter mixed with cocoa powder, topped with toasted hazelnuts, cacao nibs, and a drizzle of maple syrup.
  • Tropical Breeze: Macadamia nut butter topped with thinly sliced pineapple, a light sprinkle of ground ginger, and toasted coconut flakes.
  • Thai Almond: Almond butter topped with bean sprouts, cilantro, a drizzle of sriracha and a pinch of coarse sea salt.
  • Banana Pudding: Cashew butter with half a banana mashed into it, topped with the remaining banana, sliced, and crushed graham cracker crumbs.
  • Massaman Curry: Peanut butter with madras curry powder mixed in, topped with roasted sweet potato and toasted peanuts.
  • The Cereal Bowl: Almond butter topped with granola and a drizzle of vanilla yogurt.
  • Pecan Pie: Pecan butter topped with toasted pecans, a light sprinkle of cinnamon, and a drizzle of maple syrup.
  • Salted Caramel: Cashew butter mixed with dark brown sugar and a pinch of salt, topped with turbinado sugar and coarse sea salt.
  • Mocha Latte: Almond butter with instant coffee powder and cocoa mixed in, optionally topped with coconut whipped cream.
  • Ants Off a Log: Peanut butter topped with thinly sliced celery and raisins.
  • Sonoma Harvest: Hazelnut butter topped with sliced grapes, arugula, a drizzle of balsamic glaze, and toasted sliced almonds.
  • Apple Pie: Cashew butter topped with brown sugar, thinly sliced sweet apples, and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Cheesecake: Cashew butter swirled with vegan cream cheese, topped with sliced strawberries and crushed graham cracker crumbs.
  • The Pregnant Lady: Peanut butter topped with sliced bread and butter pickles, optionally topped with coconut whipped cream.
  • S’mores: Cashew butter topped with chocolate chips, crushed graham cracker crumbs, and toasted vegan marshmallows.

Some are obvious, some are a bit more avant-garde, but all are thoroughly delicious. What are your favorite ways to raise a toast?

Carbivore

WAIT! Before you start folding up the picnic table and packing away the lawn darts, let’s pretend like it’s still summer for just a little bit longer, please? While everyone else rushes to embrace the new pumpkin-infused season, plenty of warm, sunny days remain in the forecast yet, with much of the west coast in particular still due for a solid heatwave soon. Despite what the calendar may tell you, take a look outside before donning that heavy sweater. Let’s party like fall is but a distant concept for later days, concerning only overly cautious weathermen determined to throw shade on our fun.

My encouragement is of course entirely self-serving, but you see, it would be a shame to sit on this great pasta salad for another full year. Inspired by a trip to Baia Pasta, my neighbors in Oakland that I never knew lived next door all along, such incredible noodles need little ornamentation to shine on any table.

These small-batch artisan noodles are making a big splash nationwide thanks to an obsessive level of passion for every detail. Obvious considerations are the specific amounts of protein, moisture, type of flour, but what about the drying temperature and time? Procuring the unique shapes and the obscure dies to extrude them? Determining the types of wheat that can endure such a demanding process without breaking, dissolving, or crumbling under the pressure? That’s to say nothing of the unconventional seasonings blended into some of the more colorful pastas, giving rise to a full rainbow of bright, bold flavors.

Organic durum, whole durum, spelt, whole spelt, and whole khorasan wheat are the foundations of each charming twist, twirl, and tube. Pale, limp spaghetti strands are no where to be seen here, and you’d never miss them in the first place.

To fully celebrate such an exquisite yet uncomplicated staple, the greatest (and most challenging) task for the cook is to simply not mess with perfection. It’s already great as is- What more could one add?

In this case, my inclusions are more like additional refrains of the chorus, echoing and underscoring what already got the crowd off their feet to sing. Beautiful Organic Durum Wheat Flavored Soup Radiatori (Dynamos) are infused with beets, spinach, and tomatoes, which are exactly the same guests I invited to harmonize. Yes, that’s why it’s the BeST pasta salad, but for more than that cute pun alone. Accented with an invigorating punch of fresh basil, savory yet subtle white miso, and a light kiss of buttery avocado oil, it might very well be best dish of the season altogether, if we can sneak this last ode to summer in, right under the wire.

Smothering any of the superlative pastas from Baia with a heavy sauce seemed a crime, though I’ll readily admit, later experiments with mac and cheese were a stunning success…

But that can wait for colder days. For now, let’s revel in the fading sunlight, the last call of summer, until we reach the very bottom of the bowl.

BeST Pasta Salad

2 Cups Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
1 Medium Gold Beet, Peeled and Spiralized
8 Ounces Rainbow Radiatori Pasta, Cooked, Rinsed in Cold Water, and Thoroughly Drained
4 Cups Baby Spinach
3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Clove Garlic, Very Finely Minced
1/4 Cup Avocado Oil
3 Tablespoons Sherry Vinegar
2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
1/2 Cup Fresh Basil, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

As you might imagine, this pasta salad comes together very quickly and easily. If you’ve gone through the trouble of prepping the ingredients as listed, you probably aren’t even reading this instruction right now. That’s okay; I wouldn’t bother either. Simply toss everything together until well blended, and either enjoy immediately, or chill for up to 4 hours. Savor a taste of summer all over again.

Makes 4 – 8 Servings

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Can You Hack It?

The following text is an excerpt from my latest cookbook, Real Food, Really Fast. Get more speedy tips and tricks, along with over 100 delicious, lightning-fast recipes inside! Better yet, if you’re in the SoCal area this weekend, catch me at the California Vegetarian Food Festival on Saturday, September 29th, where I’ll be demonstrating my infamous Garlic Bread Soup. Come early to snag a seat, and come hungry for generous samples!

The single most important ingredient in any recipe can’t be measured in tablespoons or cups, nor can it be bought, borrowed, or stolen. That extra piece of the puzzle that most cookbooks fail to address is you, the intrepid cook, boldly venturing forth to explore new culinary territory. Anyone can read a recipe and it doesn’t take a classically trained chef to chop an onion, but there are certain steps that can be taken to speed through prep work in record time. To better prepare your vegetables, you must prepare yourself. Move with intention and a sense of urgency; know your next step before you get there to keep dancing through the routine with grace. That also means reading through each recipe from start to finish so there are no surprises halfway through the hustle.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a new cook, the following suggestions should help tune up your techniques to get food on the table faster than ever before.

  • Citrus: Always zest lemons, oranges, and limes first, before slicing or juicing. While they’re still whole you’ll have more surface area to work with, and a better base to hold so you’re less likely to grate your fingers at the same time. Then, to extract the most juice as possible, microwave for 10–15 seconds to gently warm, and roll them firmly against the counter to break down some of the cell walls before cutting in half and squeezing.
  • Garlic: Separate the cloves and give each one a sharp whack with the side of your knife to instantly loosen the skins. You should be able to pick the peel right off. Once cleaned, you can continue smashing and mashing them with the side of the knife, rather than the blade, to yield a quick, coarse paste that can be used instead of a fine mince.
  • Ginger: Don’t bother breaking out the peeler to remove the tough outer skin. Use a paring knife to shave away the exterior if needed, but better yet, buy very young, fresh ginger that doesn’t need to be peeled in the first place. In Japanese markets, this is referred to as “myoga.”
  • Cauliflower or Broccoli: Pare away the leaves and trim down the excess stem. Place the head in a large, clean plastic bag, and twist it closed. Bang the whole thing down on the counter repeatedly, stem-side first, to easily break it down into bite-sized florets.
  • Cherry Tomatoes: Instead of chasing around each tasty red marble and slicing them in half one by one, slash straight through a whole batch in one fell swoop. Place a generous handful between two plates and gently press down to keep them all stable and still. Use an exceptionally sharp knife to cut horizontally through the center to cleanly halve tomatoes.
  • Corn: Once cooked, shuck corn quickly by slicing off the bottom of the husk and simply pushing the ear out, leaving the messy silk behind.
  • Cherries (and Olives!): Don’t bother with a unitasking cherry pitter if you’re unlikely to use it more than once or twice a year. Place each cherry on top of an empty glass soda or beer bottle, and use a chopstick to poke out the pit, pushing it straight down into the bottle.
  • Non-Dairy Milk: Whip up an instant dairy-free beverage by simply combining 2 tablespoons of your favorite nut butter (almond and cashew are my favorite options, but sunflower, peanut, and pecan are also excellent alternatives) with 1 cup of water in your blender. Blend until smooth and use as is for savory cooking or baking, or add up to a tablespoon of sugar, agave, or maple syrup to sweeten it for drinking.

Why cut and chop with conventional techniques when you can hack your way to faster food prep? Some specific foods hold secret shortcuts that will leave traditional methods in the dust.

Pineapple Express

Reaching for the heavy brass door knocker standing guard at the entry of my childhood home, I never once questioned why it was fashioned after a pineapple. Design flourishes were not the first priority for the architects who constructed this traditional, simple New England colonial; it could have been any other shape, but of all the possible symbols to display to guests, the first thing that they grasp upon arrival, was this tropical fruit.

Representing both status and hospitality in one fell swoop, the prestige of the pineapple is often credited to Christopher Columbus, who brought them back from his voyages as an offering to the Spanish King Ferdi­nand II. Since it was the only edible offering that survived the trip intact, it was the clear winner amongst the bundle of rotting tomatoes, tobacco, and pumpkins. That initial exoticism, impressive appearance, and incomparable sweetness vaulted it to the highest ranks. To have such wealth that you could offer these esteemed specimens freely to visitors instantly spoke of your prosperity, and lightly veiled bragging in the form of faux-generosity.

The symbolism stuck. Scarcity is a thing of the past, but their popularity continues to soar. Now one of the most popular produce picks on the market, retailers predict a pineapple boom is still to come, while the current culture has found all new meaning in the spiky fruits. The full weight of that multilayered meaning may not hit every time we slice into the yellow flesh, peel away the harsh, spiky exterior, and sink our teeth into the tangy fibers. Though the pineapple still enjoys a place of honor in, and outside, many homes, the place where it’s most welcome is the kitchen.

Roasting and caramelizing cubes of pineapple brings out a whole new depth of flavor, while still maintaining its characteristic brightness, and simultaneously concentrating its inherent sweetness. Though it would be no sacrifice to simply eat the results plain, perhaps with a dollop of whipped cream to fancy things up, I was craving a bite of comfort in the form of pound cake. Simple, homey, and undemanding, it really is the ideal house guest, and ideal for serving visitors in turn. The dense, tender, moist crumb sparkles with tropical undertones, enriched by coconut milk and spiked by just a hint of ginger.

Christopher Columbus committed countless terrible, unthinkable crimes in his grand adventures, but at least this one small contribution to history is one we can look back on with pride. The pineapple has earned its place of honor, and continues to flourish in ways the explorer could have never imagined.

Roasted Pineapple Pound Cake

1 3/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1 1/2 Cups Roasted Pineapple Puree*
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil or Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

*To roast the pineapple, peel, core, and dice the fruit before spreading the piece evenly inside a casserole or baking dish. A good amount of juice will be expressed so you need a vessel with fairly high sides. Bake at 400 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes or so, for 60 – 70 minutes until caramelized. Cool completely before tossing into a blender to puree.

**If you have leftover puree, you can whip up a quick glaze by stirring in brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon to taste and cooking it over the stove until the granules dissolve. Drizzle or slather on top of the cooled loaf as desired.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, white sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and ginger. Add the pineapple puree, oil, coconut milk, vinegar, and vanilla, mixing thoroughly until the batter is fairly smooth. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few lumps, rather than risk over-mixing and creating a tough crumb.

Bake for 60 – 75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You may want to tent the loaf with foil half-way through the baking process if you fear it will turn out too dark. Remove foil as soon as it comes out of the oven and let cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes. Turn out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling, and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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