BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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True Gossip

Rumors are flying about the new taco spot in Nob Hill, but the buzz is so much more than mere gossip. Although that’s the translation of Chisme, the bespoke restaurant has already proven itself a worthy contender in a city teeming with Mexican eateries. Menu options are limited, focused on a short list of fillings to swaddle in soft, handmade tortillas, served two per order. Simple yet irresistible appetizer staples like chips and guacamole or fried potatoes do beckon, but stay focused here. Take a closer look at those taco options. Not only are the vegan choices clearly marked, but compared to the more meaty entrees, they dominate the colorful paper printout.

Fusion is the name of the game for these unconventional offerings, such as eggplant slathered in peanut mole, or plantains and black beans paired with a creamy coconut ranch dressing. Perish the thought of strained, unsatisfying attempts at “authenticity” here; flavor comes first, regardless of origin. Chisme caters to a different sort of crowd, and those customers seem to be eating it up.

Order at the front, grab a number, and take a seat at the communal table or benches. One might call the space spare and the service no-frills, but it’s warm and friendly, open and inviting, regardless. Besides, in a matter of minutes your surroundings will become irrelevant as a hot plate of food drops in front of you. If there’s only one dish to order, it’s the Jackfruit Taco. Marinated in a savory sauce and fried to crispy perfection, it remains juicy inside, with an impossibly meaty bite all the way though. Greens and cabbage are par for the course, adding a bit of freshness and crunch to the conversation, but the unexpected brightness of the mint verde sauce truly seals the deal. It sounds like a crazy combination, but trust me, it just works.

Don’t sleep on that fiery green hot sauce that comes on the side, either. It’s the sort of condiment that people would steal if it was put into bottles, or for those with more restraint, buy by the case if it was sold in stores. If the heat becomes overwhelming, cool down with a dairy-free coconut horchata for dessert. The sweetness of this cinnamon-spiked elixir could easily rival that of a proper milkshake, but is a welcome refreshment on a hot day.

Stop the gossip and get the facts. Chisme is the real deal.

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Welcome to the Dark Side

Maybe the most ardent shoppers are still shaking off crushing food comas from the previous night’s excess, but I’m ready to call it early: Black Friday has lost all credibility. Gone are the lines snaking through parking lots, populated by die-hard bargain hunters setting up camp up to a day in advance. 3 AM wake up calls are almost entirely a thing of the past, owing to advanced Thanksgiving day openings, if they didn’t simply leave those automatic glass doors yawning wide open all night long. Most notably on the list of offenses, however, is the fact that it’s not even a single day anymore. How can you call it Black Friday when the big ticket, door buster deals hit a week ago, if not earlier? Perhaps it’s just my heart that’s gone black this year, but I’m officially burned out on this buying and selling insanity.

No, on second thought, I take it back. It’s more than just my black heart speaking, it’s also the black stew percolating on the stove that’s keeping me away from the celebration of consumerism this afternoon.

There’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of darkness, especially when it comes primarily in the form of rich, nutty tahini paste. Quite the rarity despite the popularity of standard blonde sesame butter, black tahini is in a category all its own. I was lucky enough to score a jar while visiting the Living Tree Community Foods offices here in the east bay, and have been somewhat obsessed with it ever since. If you thought almond butter toast was pretty snappy, just try switching up your schmear tactics and taste the difference for yourself. A subtly bitter edge offsets its sticky decadence, lending a far more nuanced flavor profile than one might expect from this silky-smooth, raw puree.

Not to throw shade on Black Friday, but it only wishes it was half as dark as this hearty concoction of black lentils, black beans, black cocoa, and of course, black tahini. Get a healthier fix this “holiday” and save your dollars for the important things that really matter… Like more sesame paste to prepare a second round, perhaps?

Blackout Sesame Chili

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, Diced
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 (14.5-Ounce) Can Diced Tomatoes
1 (6-Ounce) Can Tomato Paste
1 1/2 Cups Dry Black Beluga Lentils
1 (16-Ounce) Can Stout Beer
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
2 Tablespoons Black Cocoa Powder
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Chipotle Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 Cup Black Tahini
2 (15.5-Ounce) Cans Black Beans, Rinsed and Drained
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Teaspoon Salt

To Garnish (optional):

1 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
3 – 4 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Toasted Black Sesame Seeds

Place a large stock pot over medium heat and add in the oil. Once shimmer, add the onion and garlic, sauteing until lightly browned and aromatic; about 6 – 8 minutes. Introduce the diced tomatoes and tomato paste next, working the paste into the scant liquid to break it down into a smooth mixture. Next, incorporate the lentils, beer, vegetable stock, maple syrup, chili powder, black cocoa, cumin, chipotle powder, and cayenne. Stir well to combine, cover, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, until lentils are tender. Add tahini and black beans, mixing well to incorporate. Continue to stew, uncovered, for an additional 15 – 20 minutes until thick, rich, and piping hot. Add the lime juice and salt, adjusting both to taste as needed.

Depending on your desired consistency, you may want to add more vegetable stock or water, particularly if the chili is made in advance. It tends to thicken further as it cools.

Ladle out into bowls and top with sour cream, scallions, and black sesame seeds. Eat to your black heart’s content!

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Poached Trade

At their bare essentials, all holidays are based around eating and drinking to some degree, but none more so than Thanksgiving. In fact, it’s the main event! Without the gluttonous, butter-soaked spread, it would be just another family meal. Our excuse is that we’re merely celebrating the great bounty we’re so fortunate to receive, but somewhere along the line, it becomes a battle between man and sweatpants, seeing which will give under the pressure first.

Today, I would like to offer you the antidote to that over-the-top indulgence, in the form of a persimmon. Elegant simplicity defines this plate; more of a procedure than a full recipe, the most essential step is one not written in the instructions. Start with only the very best fruit, or don’t bother starting at all.

I would never suggest that such a humble dessert, delicious as it may be, could ever replace the traditional slab of pumpkin or pecan pie. Rather, consider each one a sweet little snack that’s something extra special for the occasion. Serve these dainty orange orbs midday to stave off that familiar, gnawing hunger while dinner slowly roasts to prevent the inevitable frenzied binge. Alternatively, save them for the following day when those sticky, crumbly, half-eaten pies aren’t nearly so appealing.

Poached Persimmons

5 Fuyu Persimmons, Stemmed and Peeled
3 Cups Pineapple Juice
2 Tablespoons Dark Rum
2 Inches Fresh Ginger, Sliced
1 Vanilla Bean, Split
Zest of 1 Orange, Peeled Off in Strips
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch

Whipped Ginger Fluff:

1/4 Cup Aquafaba
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

5 Tablespoons Toasted Pistachios, for Garnish

Core out the persimmons, removing the calyxes, and peel. Place them in a medium saucepan along with the pineapple juice, rum, fresh ginger, vanilla bean, and orange zest. Bring the liquid up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and gently cook for 20 – 30 minutes, until the fruits are fork-tender.

Remove the persimmons with a slotted spoon, leaving the excess poaching liquid behind in the pan. Remove and discard the ginger pieces, spent vanilla bean, and orange peel. Whisk in the cornstarch and return it to the heat. Bring the mixture back to a boil, whisking periodically, until thickened. Set aside.

When you’re ready to make the fluff, begin whipping the aquafaba in your stand mixer on low. Gradually increase the speed all the way to the highest setting and slowly begin adding the sugar and ginger together. Once incorporated, add in the vanilla. Continue whipping for about 10 minutes, until light and fluffy.

To serve, spoon a dollop of the ginger fluff on top of each persimmon and top with a tablespoon of the pistachios. Divide the sauce equally between the plates and enjoy warm.

Makes 5 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Freshly Pressed

Now that we’ve covered the hardware, it’s time to talk pressure cooking software. Run the scripts on any of these effortless, almost instant culinary programs for guaranteed success. It doesn’t take any sophisticated hacking to get into this system; this high-tech gateway to faster, healthier meals is already unlocked without password protection. From breakfast to dessert, there’s never a bad time to turn up the pressure. As seen on Mealthy.com, my most recent delicious downloads are just the beginning.

Chai Latte Steel-Cut Oatmeal

When you need an extra energy boost in the morning, start with this hearty breakfast option that will power you through the busiest of days. Steel-cut oats are nutritional superheroes by themselves, but when infused with whole black tea leaves, they take on even greater powers. Warm spices mingle to evoke the flavor of a comforting cup of chai, creating a dish that is as delicious as it is invigorating.

Carrot Cake Oatmeal

Have your cake and eat it for breakfast, too! Satisfy your sweet tooth while fueling yourself for the day with a hearty bowl of lightly spiced and tender oats featuring the sweetness of classic carrot cake. The combination is so compelling, you won’t even realize you’re getting an extra serving of vegetables for breakfast.

Butternut Squash Soup

Playing off the natural sweetness of butternut squash, fiery spices elevate the humble gourd to all new culinary heights. Coconut milk tames the flame and rounds out the entire creamy combination, yielding a perfectly balanced blend with minimal effort. If you have a pressure cooker and a few pantry staples on hand, you’ll have an unbeatable bowl of soup in no time.

Golden Lentil Daal

Get that golden glow with this hearty lentil daal, infused with a bold, bright punch of turmeric! The whole thing is ready in 30 minutes from start to finish and bursts with fresh, spicy flavors.

Cinnamon Applesauce

Once you see how quick and easy applesauce can be made in a pressure cooker, you’ll never want to buy it at the store again.

Rosemary and Garlic Potatoes

Meet your new side dish savior. No matter what you’re serving for the main course, these charming little potatoes are a fool-proof way to round out the meal with flair. In fact, depending on the situation, they may just steal the show!

Mulled Red Wine

Mulled wine is one of the true treats of cold-weather season. Using your pressure cooker to mull the wine means you won’t have to worry about over-reducing the wine while simmering and losing volume.

Simple Vegetable Soup

Whether you’re a devoted vegetable-lover or are still struggling to embrace them, this is the soup for you. The beauty of this blend is that it’s infinitely flexible! Use any vegetables you prefer or have on hand to adapt it to your taste. Just aim for somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 to 8 cups of chopped vegetables total.

Apple Crisp

Dig into meltingly tender spiced apples with a comforting brown sugar and oat topping in record time. Using a pressure cooker instead of a conventional oven speeds up the process so you can skip the labor and get straight to the love.

Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup

Could there be anything more comforting than a big bowlful of velvety tomato soup? How about a creamy option without a single drop of dairy? Whole cashews are cooked right into the mix, blending to an impossibly luscious consistency. Fire-roasted and sun-dried tomatoes join forces to lend a robust, full-bodied tomato flavor that tastes like it spent all day simmering on the stove.

Multi-Mushroom Risotto

Have you heard that risotto must be painstakingly stirred nonstop until you feel like your arms will fall off? No longer! Let the pressure cooker do the work to get dinner on the table in mere minutes. Mushrooms are so rich in umami flavor that they need little culinary intervention to shine. A variety of wild and cultivated varieties unlock an earthy, savory depth that will taste like it took all day to develop.

Spiced Apple Cider

When temperatures begin to drop, turn up the heat with this cozy drink that will warm you from the inside out. Skip the sugar for a more complex, nuanced brew with much more to offer than simple and bland sweetness. This seasonal treat keeps both kids and adults coming back for one glass after the next.

After scrolling through those quick fix temptations, are you feeling the pressure yet? What are your quick cooking staples so far?


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Under Pressure

Scores of cookbooks sing its praises, boasting equally effusive reviews to match. Facebook groups gain followers faster than the average religious cult. The Instapot has achieved cult status thanks to the countless innovative yet impatient cooks across the globe, reveling in the abilities of this now ubiquitous kitchen appliance. More than a mere electric pressure cooker, even the most basic models can also morph into slow cookers and rice cookers with the touch of a button, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. For the tech-obsessed, you can even find wi-fi connected contraptions, set to start wirelessly through a few smartphone commands, no matter how far from home you start craving a hot dinner. As a previous keeper of the beast, I can personally attest to the power of the Instapot. Moving across the country, one of the greatest sacrifices was leaving that hulking beauty behind on the opposite coast, for no amount of force could ever wedge it into my suitcase.

On the bright side, the world of kitchen gadgets lay out before me again, beckoning, begging for a second look. Is there anything to the name brand, or could other electric multi-cookers simmer, stew, and steam with the best of them?

Enter: The Power Pressure Cooker XL. I’ve had over a year to learn its quirks, putting it to the test with every endless recipe experiments, and am now ready to weigh in.

Like any pressure cooker worth its salt, digital or analog, this baby will pay for itself by churning out perfectly toothsome beans at a quarter of the price of canned, in a tenth of the time it would take to soak and simmer. Instead of soaking overnight and stewing for an hour, chickpeas transform from hard marbles to plump golden nuggets in 30 to 40 minutes. Don’t even get me started about the bounty of excess aquafaba you’ll reap at the same time.

Rice of all colors swells to an ideal al dente consistency every time, as does any other grain you can throw at it; quinoa, millet, farro, amaranth, and rye berries alike cook up effortlessly, allowing you to focus on the main meal instead. Never again worry about scorched pans either, forgotten on the stove to toast the contents to a darker shade of charcoal, thanks to the automatic warming function that kicks into gear as soon as time on the clock runs out.

But beans are just the start. One-pot meals are the saving grace for many hectic days when quick-fix takeout options would otherwise beckon. Soups, stews, chili- You name it, you can pressure cook it. Even my take on a meatless pot au feu, a deeply savory combination of seasonal vegetables that practically melt in the mouth, no longer conforms to the translation of “pot on the fire,” demonstrating that a burning flame need not apply.

When an avalanche of ripe plums rained down from the tree stretching out across the backyard, I jumped at the chance to use one of the rarer features: the pressure canning function. Most electric pressure cookers can’t safely deliver a punishing round of heat and force that is sufficient for proper preservation, which gives this model a serious advantage for the avid jammer or pickle pro. Though skeptical, I followed all the standard canning guidelines, carefully set my plum-packed glass jars in place, and without any fuss nor fanfare, they emerged perfectly sealed, exactly as promised. Truth be told, this was my first solo attempt at canning, so it was a truly sweet victory, indeed.

Venturing further off the beaten path, I opened up the valve and turned the vessel into a compact steam bath. Elevating a half dozen pearly white bao on a small wire rack, the results were nothing short of spectacular. Fluffy buns enclosed a simple mushroom-zucchini filling, hot and juicy at the core, the exterior soft as a pillow.

All told, one fatal design flaw prevents me from giving this particular appliance a completely enthusiastic endorsement. The steam valve, the single most important piece of this entire contraption that allows it to achieve and maintain pressure, does not lock into place. Tiny icons note the open and closed positions, but it could spin endlessly around without perfectly hitting the mark. On more than one occasion I have a endured a full cooking cycle, excitedly lifting the lid only to discover completely uncooked rice, potatoes, or what have you, looking exactly the same as when they first entered the pot, but sitting in slightly warmer water. This doesn’t affect the outcome for steaming, slow cooking, browning, yogurt making, and all other no-pressure situations, but since that’s the main selling point for me, it’s a huge weakness that knocks the Power Pressure Cooker XL down a number of point by my unofficial tally.

A similar failing in the design department is the lack of clear manual settings for those who want to explore less common cooking territory, with dishes that don’t fall neatly into the “stew” or “rice” category, but still require control over high or low pressure. Luckily, approximating a similar preparation and adjusting the timer from there has yet to go too far awry, but it’s not entirely user-friendly.

All told, it’s a strong contender; good long-term performance, an excellent value for the money, and highly versatile for a while range of culinary experiments. Finesse in design can’t quite measure up to the shining example set by the much esteemed InstaPot, but for pure functionality, you won’t regret making this reasonable investment. The Power Pressure Cooker XL will quickly earn its keep.

Equipment provided by the Power Pressure Cooker XL for review, but all content and unbiased opinions are entirely my own.


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Clear-Cut

Alinea set the internet on fire once again with another avant-garde culinary masterpiece, drawing on the pumpkin spice craze to further propel it into a viral hit. Perfectly clear pumpkin pie, glossy and ethereal, gently quavered in the brief Instagram video, a tiny wedge being turned over and examined by a disembodied hand. Mesmerizing, confounding, the attraction is instant and irresistible.

#surrealism, indeed.

I tried to look away, to ignore the hype, but curiosity got the best of me, as it always does. A homemade rendition would never be able to stand up to the original for lack of fancy equipment, unless you happen to have a centrifuge and rotary-evaporator lying around to extract clear, condensed liquid from pumpkin puree, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play with the concept. Drawing inspiration from this wild idea and combining it with the pumpkin spice trend that ignores the actual gourd, my take is admittedly more translucent than transparent, but nonetheless a whimsical departure from the ordinary orange slice.

Translucent Pumpkin Spice Pie

1 (8-Inch) Graham Cracker Crust, Baked
3 Cups Water
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Pumpkin Spice Extract
1 Tablespoon Agar Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Salt

Combine the water, sugar, pumpkin spice extract, agar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk periodically until the sugar has fully dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for 2 more minutes. Gently pour the mixture into your prepared crust so as not to kick up lots of loose crumbs. Let the pie cool to room temperature before moving it into the fridge to chill. Once fully set (about 1 to 2 hours), slice and serve!

Makes 8 Servings

Printable Recipe