BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Dirty Diamonds

They lurk on the fringes of civilization, just beyond the beaten trail, breeding and multiplying rapidly under the cover of darkness. Few take notice of their growing forces, and those who do rarely understand the implications. Call it a parasite, call it invasive, but I just call it dinner.

Chanterelle mushrooms are prized by umami-lovers the world over, fetching hefty prices at market due to their untamed ways. Like many of the greatest culinary treasures, chanterelles have never successfully been cultivated, demanding that the hungry hordes hunt and forage by hand for such this rarefied prize. A risky venture for the uninitiated, mushroom collection can quickly go awry with just one wrong identification. As a novice myself, the first piece of advice I would give for any fungus fanatics is to go with someone who knows. Even if I knew what I was looking for on my first expedition, I would have bypassed those bright orange caps for fear of culling something genuinely poisonous. Chanetelles succeed in making themselves look quite fearsome at first glance.

Knowing what to look for is one thing, and knowing where to look is another entirely. The best spots are just beyond the trampled woodland trails, amongst fallen trees and in soft, damp soil. In fact, these water-loving creatures are most likely to spring up after a decent rain, so brace yourself for muddy messy conditions. Poke under leaves and dig around when you find a patch; there may very well be more hidden within nearby shifting earth.

Chanterelles vary greatly in size, but rarely grow so strong that they need to be forceably cut from the ground. Slip your fingers underneath the cap to support it before gently pulling upwards. It should easily yield under pressure. Stash your treasures in a breathable cloth or compostable plastic bag.

Oh, did I mention mud? Yes, prepare yourself for some serious mud-slinging in the most literal sense possible. Wear boots, long pants, work gloves, and absolutely nothing you care about wearing again. Not only will you emerge caked in filth, but naturally, your mushrooms will as well. Knock off as much dirt as possible in the field and immediately hose them down when you get home. Take a paring knife to shave down stems and cut out any iffy pieces. Let them air dry, then wash them again. Then take a tooth brush to scrub away more of the particles stuck in the frilly caps. Dry, and then once more for good measure, wash them again before cooking. Don’t fear the water; larger caps can actually be squeezed out much like sponges to expel extra liquid.

Once you’re reasonably satisfied that you won’t get a mouthful of soil with your meal, process the mushrooms immediately. Fresh chanterelles are extremely fragile and will deteriorate rapidly. Your best bet is to chop them roughly and saute in a dry skillet to express the extra water. Once the surrounding liquid has evaporated, stash the pieces in fridge or freezer for more long term storage. Alternatively, you can then transfer them into a dehydrator to get crispy dices that can be stored at room-temperature, or ground to a powder for seasoning.

Side note: Never eat wild, foraged mushrooms raw, for obvious reasons. Just don’t risk it.

The greatest way to honor these noble spores, however, is to eat them right away. My favorite approach is to slice them thick before baking lightly in the oven merely to concentrate their inherent umami. Use these slabs to top just about anything; tofu scrambles, creamy pastas, and of course, pizzas the world over.

What follows is not actually a recipe but a guideline for my current quick-fix chanterelle indulgence. If you should ever be so lucky to uncover a trove of wild, edible mushrooms, the best thing you can do is to let them shine. In this application, their earthy flavors are accentuated by the deep, caramelized sweetness of roasted garlic, a subtle hit of rosemary, and woodsy smoked tomatoes. Any and all ingredients entirely interchangeable based on availability and personal preference. Just don’t overthink it, celebrate your wild food find, and enjoy your edible plunder to the fullest.

Chanterelle Flatbread Pizza

1/2 – 3/4 Pound Fresh Chanterelle Mushrooms, Cut into 1/4-Inch Slices
1 Head Roasted Garlic
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Flatbread or Small Par-Baked Pizza Crust
1/4 Cup Smoked Julienne Cut Sun-Dried Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Chopped Toasted Pecans
Arugula, Pea Shoots, or Mache

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange your sliced mushrooms in a single layer on one or two baking sheets and cook gently, rotating the sheets every 20 minutes or so, for 40 – 60 minutes. At first, the sheets may appear to flood with water, but don’t panic! Allow the mushrooms to continue baking until the liquid has evaporated.

Remove the mushrooms, let cool for 10 minutes before handling, and raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Peel all the cloves of garlic and place them in a small bowl with the oil, salt, rosemary, and pepper. Rough mash with a fork until spreadable but still chunky.

Place the flatbread or crust on a clean baking sheet and smear it liberally with the garlic spread. Sprinkle the baked mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and pecans evenly on top. Transfer the whole thing to the oven and bake just until hot and crisp; 8 – 12 minutes.

Finish with a handful of your favorite greens, slice, and serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe

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Tapping into Maple Treats

Far from revolutionary yet uncommonly combined, the idea of sweetening a simple latte with maple syrup stopped me in my tracks. Hustling downtown from one errand to the next, I practically tripped over the sidewalk sandwich board touting the debut of a “salted maple latte,” mercifully indicating an end to Pumpkin Spice season. Trying to play off my ungraceful footwork like a premeditated pause, I took a small detour to squint into the open cafe window, as if I might catch sight of this mystical creation, to no avail. Short on time but long on tasks, I had no choice but to continue ahead as planned, latte-less.

All day and later that night, I still couldn’t shake visions of coffee and maple from my head. That final suggestion of a subtly salty finish truly sealed the deal. While undeniably appealing as a quick-fix caffeine infusion, it didn’t take long for me to realize the potential for baked good conversion.

Consider this the grown-up take on this nostalgic chewy cookie; a bit more edgy than its simple cinnamon-scented origins, occasionally salty, crisp on the outside but still soft and supple in the center. Pure maple syrup provides a comforting woodsy undercurrent, perfectly paired with the more earthy notes of strong coffee, concentrated down into powdered format. I daresay one perfectly chewy cookie easily outshines a whole round of foamy coffee shop drinks- No baristas necessary.

Salted Maple Latte Snickerdoodles

Salted Maple Latte Cookies:

1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Maple-Cinnamon Sugar:

1/4 Cup Maple Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Coarse or Kosher Salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silpat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, instant coffee, baking powder, and salt so that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Separately, combine the sugar, maple syrup, melted vegan butter, and vanilla. Stir well, and then add the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Using a wide spatula, mix just enough to bring the batter together smoothly.

Mix together the ingredients for the maple-cinnamon sugar in a small dish. Use a medium ice cream scoop to portion out the cookie dough, and drop each ball one at a time into the sugar mixture. It’s a very soft dough so just toss lightly to coat. Once evenly covered, place them with at least 1 1/2 between each cookie on your prepared baking sheet. They spread out to become sizable cookies, so leave a generous amount of space all around.

Flatten them out slightly with lightly moistened hands, and bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until barely browned around the edges and no longer shiny on top. They may looks a bit underdone, but they will continue to bake once removed from the oven, and you want to keep them nice and chewy. Let the cookies rest on the sheets for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Makes 8 – 10 Large Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

January is upon us. The quietest month of all, a natural respite from the cacophony of holiday festivities, the days ahead stretch out like a lazy yawn. Mercifully unhurried and undemanding, it’s back to work as usual, but without the same frantic pace as before. Some unspoken understanding allows us to resume our activities with a greater margin for error. Retreating back into the warmth of our homes, insulated under the padding of thick sweaters and blankets, I used to see this as a very isolating time of year. Now I’ve come to realize that it’s just a matter of how we choose to find comfort. We’re actually all in this together, experiencing the very same nesting instinct; whether we choose to share our nests with one another makes all the difference.

Inevitably, much will be said about comfort food in the coming days, despite of the incessant push to “eat clean” or observe a “New Year, new you.” Join me in rejecting these silly slogans, once and for all. Changing your diet or exercise regime won’t change who you are. No matter how far you run, no matter how many green smoothies you chug, your essential core remains the same, and you know what? I think that’s pretty amazing.

Pardon the terrible segue here, but I just wanted to take that brief opportunity to wear my heart on my sleeve, inspired by the deeply soul-satisfying dish known as manicotti to us Americans, or “little shirt sleeves” to Italians. Such a labor-intensive pasta preparation could only be made with love and patience, both of which I’d like to believe are in ample supply as we stride boldly forward into 2017. Fitting the definition of comfort food to a T, the combination of noodles, cheese, and red sauce is one that can’t be beat… But perhaps, with just a bit of innovation, improved upon.

Chef Barry Horton of Sanctuary Bistro replaces the wheat-based pasta with savory sheets of yuba, naturally savory, toothsome, and somewhat lighter on the fork. Lithe and flexible, the tofu skins are wrapped up around dairy-free ricotta filling like crepes. There’s less danger of tearing apart hot pasta while fruitlessly burning your fingers during preparation, so even the cook can take it easy during this meal.

A perennial favorite on the menu, it strikes me as an especially appealing dinner now as we steep ourselves in the depths of winter. Soothing and familiar, yet exciting enough to pull us out of hibernation, it’s the kind of meal that makes it a little bit easier to share openly- of food, thoughts, and comfort.

Tofu Manicotti

By Chef Barry Horton of Sanctuary Bistro

Marinara Sauce:

1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Red Wine
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Tofu Ricotta:

1 Pound Firm Tofu
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
1 Teaspoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock

To Assemble:

10 Ounces Fresh Yuba, Cut into 3×5-inch Rectangles
Olive Oil
Fresh Chives (Optional)

Begin by preparing the marinara. In a sauce pot, sauté the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add in the garlic and cook until aromatic and very lightly browned. Pour in the wine, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer until reduced by half. Stir in the tomatoes and continue to simmer for an additional 10 – 15 minutes. Add the seasonings and yeast, along with salt and pepper to taste, before transferring to a blender. Blend until as smooth or as chunky as you’d prefer.

While the sauce is simmering, make the most of your time and get started on the tofu ricotta. Add all of the ingredients into your food processor and pulse to combine. Pause as needed to scrape down the sides of the container, ensuring that everything is well incorporated. Continue blending until smooth.

To assemble, spoon about 3 tablespoons of tofu ricotta across the short width of each yuba rectangle. Gently roll the strips of yuba up like a little wrap. Sauté 3 or 4 at a time in a generous amount of olive oil, cooking until crisp and lightly golden brown.  Serve on a pool of sauce and garnish with freshly chopped chives, if desired.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Embracing Imperfection

Rarely do New Year’s resolutions resonate with me. Striving to improve one’s health, wealth, or general shortcomings are admirable goals, but the annual effort always feels so contrived. The calendar shouldn’t be the push for these efforts; as is proven year after year, that reminder typically affects change for a month, at best.

2017, however, already seems different. High on my list of personal ambitions is to let go of the perfection fallacy and embrace the beauty in all that is conventionally deemed “ugly.” Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and I’ve found a whole lot to love in the trend towards buying otherwise unloved, ugly produce. Lemons with blemishes; apples that are too small to meet a buyer’s standards; gnarled carrots that refuse to stand up straight. Otherwise delicious fruits and vegetables are discarded in favor of their immaculate, but often tasteless, brethren.

Imperfect Produce is making big waves in the supply chain to change all that. Delivering boxes on demand directly to consumers’ doors across the bay area, they’ve only been in operation for a little over a year and have already rescued well over 750,000 pounds of otherwise wasted food. Those numbers are no small potatoes (although they have plenty of those to share, too) and promise continue growing at a rapid pace, as they’ve recently announced plans to expand into Los Angeles.

This is where I need to go off script and say that this is not a sponsored post and I did not receive anything for free. I was simply inspired by the mission of this once-small startup, and am beyond thrilled to spread the Imperfect Produce appreciation. When I realized that their warehouse was just a short walk away, I high-tailed it out there to see where all the ugly goodness comes from, and I was welcomed with open arms.

Browsing through the line of workers busily packing food into their designated compostable boxes, the real tragedy is that among the immense stacks of produce, I could hardly pick out any truly unsightly specimen within. Perhaps it’s a case of excess supply or insufficient demand, but some of these were truly stunning edible gems, deemed unfit for sale for reasons no ethical eater could comfortably stomach.

Resolve to do more for the local community, your diet, and your bank account by simply eating uglier. You’ll spend a fraction of the cost that these fruits and vegetables would otherwise command at conventional grocery stores, and better yet, you’ll skip the lines at checkout. If that’s still not enough to convince you, go ahead and take 50% off your first box with the code “SPOON” at checkout. Pick exactly what you want from the current seasonal offerings and trust that no matter what it looks like, it will always be brilliantly fresh and delicious.

The delivery range is limited to us lucky Californians at the moment, but I think the overall message is one we can all get behind for the coming year. Celebrate all of life’s imperfections, no matter what form they may take.


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Nothing Bundt Chocolate

Despite the recent influx of chocolate-covered features here on BitterSweet, I swear the trend is entirely unintentional. Given the festive season that’s upon us, I’d much rather share treats infused with bright spices, sweet winter fruits, and hearty whole grains. The catch here is that I’m typically not baking for myself, but for others, and there are quite a few picky eaters on my list. While you can never please everyone, you can bet I’m still going to try.

Thus, most nuts and dried fruits are out. Anise and clove are incredibly polarizing flavors. Nothing with booze for the staunch non-drinkers. Vegetable-haters object loudly to pumpkin in any format, which means that butternut and sweet potatoes are also out. What, then, is left in the average baker’s arsenal?

Chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate, aside from liars and the mentally unstable. This one is nothing new, and in fact, is quite a throw back. Pilfered from my mother’s recipe box on a recent visit, this classic chocolate cake is brought to you by my Great Nana Blanche. I never met the woman, but clearly, she knew how to cook for a crowd. Easily modified to yield layers, cupcakes, or a bundt, the basic formula never disappoints.

If you’re also going crazy trying to make something special for a number of picky eaters, take a hint from the classics. Sometimes, you just can’t beat a tried-and-true, old-fashioned chocolate cake. There’s a reason why those recipes have survived through so many years.

Great Nana Blanche’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (Veganized)

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Hot Water

Simple Chocolate Glaze (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease your baking vessel of choice.*

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the vegan butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add in the sour cream, yogurt, and vanilla, mixing until homogeneous. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed to ensure that all the ingredients are fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the hot water. Mix just until smooth.

*You have many options for the final shape of this cake, and all are equally delicious! Simply adjust the baking time accordingly:

9×5 loaf pan = 45 – 50 minutes
12 – 14 cupcakes = 16 – 18 minutes
8 layer cake round = 30 – 35 minutes
10-cup bundt pan = doubled recipe, baked for 60 – 70 minutes
6 – 8 mini bundts = 20 – 25 minutes

Let cool completely before glazing, if desired.

Printable Recipe


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Dreaming of a White Chocolate Christmas

Gleaming in the early morning light, bright and luminous as freshly fallen snow, white chocolate is an irreplaceable staple for the holiday baker. Generous pans of fudge, slabs of peppermint bark, and boxes of cookies all shimmer with these sweet morsels, unrivaled in their versatility for ornamentation and flavor enhancement. The trouble, as every careful shopper knows, is that mainstream options contain far more dairy than cacao. White chocolate gets a bad rap for precisely this reason, to say nothing of the waxy hydrogenated oils that often bind the whole sugary messes together. While relatively limited vegan options exist on the market, the tides are slowly changing.

Homemade options are always a treat, and you’ll find boutique bars aplenty online, but what I’m talking about today are genuine chips, capable of holding their own in any dessert rather than functioning simply as a treat to eat out of hand. Right now, there are two types of vegan chocolate chips: Those that are good for melting, dipping, and drizzling, and those that maintain their shape, more resistant to the heat of the oven.

The newest chip off the block is somewhat revolutionary; 100% organic, no hydrogenated oils or questionable fillers in sight. Cocoa butter, rice milk powder, sugar, and vanilla are the only things that go into Pascha Chocolate‘s new rice milk white chocolate chips. For the obsessive label-readers or highly allergic eaters, this stuff is heaven-sent. Flatter than the traditional snowy peaks of conventional chocolate chips, they’re more like crisp white disks, ideal for melting down into creamy cacao creations.

Mildly flavored, they don’t beat you over the head with sweetness, but whisper gently of vanilla with a subtle buttery undertone. This nuanced approach is perfect for crowning more aggressively flavored baked goods, like these gingerbread bars pictured above, cutting their intensity without detracting from the overall experience. Although their more delicate composition means they’re more likely to pool and puddle when faced with a trip through the oven, they’re perfect for turning into white ganache or icing once your treats are fully baked. For your highest quality option with the cleanest label, Pascha Chocolate is your one and only choice.

If you’re craving a smattering of white chocolate freckles throughout your cookies or cakes, however, you still have one great option! While there are a few white chips out there designed for the kosher crowd, most of those taste of little more than wax and sugar, entirely eschewing cocoa butter and thus losing the essence of this simple sweet addition. Not so with the White Chocolate Chips offered by Chocolate Emporium. These are the little morsels of pale cacao goodness that I’ve been buying (and hoarding) in bulk for years.

Although they’re stubbornly resistant to melting down smoothly, that quality serves them perfectly for baked applications. They have a slightly softer chew right out of hand, but somehow manage to hold their own in the face of a 350 degree inferno. Their flavor would be described as subtle at best, but their main function should be to add sweetness, creaminess, and color contrast anyway.

When the chips are down, these two are your very best bets, and both should have a place of honor in your kitchen year round. Vegan white chocolate is still something of a rarity, so these sweet treats will undoubtedly elicit astonishment, wonder, and awe- Not to mention hunger.