Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning typically entails a purge of non-necessities, ousting not only the cobwebs but the excesses that support their tangled strands. Taking out the old and broken, the useless and the antiquated, the pieces that no longer serve their intended purposes, is just as important as any efforts made towards vacuuming and polishing hardwood floors. The rationale is that with fewer things to collect dust, there are fewer things that need dusting.

What that doesn’t mean, in most sane approaches to organization, is adding to that collections of odds and ends- but who ever said I took that conventional route for anything? Determined to lighten the load in my cramped quarters, I first set about letting go of the warped, beaten, and rusted pans that always gave me grief for even the simplest of recipes. One can’t simply go without proper cookware though, so immediately I set off on a new spring cleaning mission of renewal, rather than removal.

Admittedly, this kitchen equipment renovation began months ago, giving me time enough to torture test these new tools for all they’re worth. Now that this season of revival is upon us, it’s with great pleasure and confidence that I can trash the previous set of decrepit pans in favor of my gorgeous 10-Piece Circulon Baking Set, in a very fetching shade of chocolate brown, no less. What could be better for a dessert fiend?

Not all baking sheets are created equal; a critical element that’s sadly overlooked when it comes to most recipe disappointments. Having a reliably non-stick surface that cooks evenly, browns properly, and retains heat as expected is the single most important component of any edible creation that goes into the oven, sweet or savory. For baking dishes of any depth, having wide enough handles for easy removal is also key, lest you plan on feeding your latest creations directly to the floor below. From the loaves to squares to sheets, this new set has proven its worth through every trial by fire, coming clean with equal ease once its duty is done. The matching cooling rack and covered rectangular lid for easy transport are truly the icing AND cherries on the heavy-gauge steel cake.

Equally matched in beauty and functionality, my gleaming behemoth Anolon Vesta Cast Iron Umber 12-inch Skillet has the capacity to feed an army with a serious sweet tooth. This workhorse is truly a beast, with the weight and heft to withstand any amount of heat. Transitioning from stove top to oven like a champ, I’ve used it to make everything from glorious golden brown pancakes, crisp grilled cheese sandwiches, juicy fresh fruit cobblers, and far beyond. The porcelain enamel exterior adds flair to this kitchen essential, adding a touch of personality without compromising performance.

Is it time you considered an equipment refresh of your own? When was the last time you examined your arsenal of tools with a critical eye, taking stock of their true shortcomings? Pots and pans aren’t forever, and making one small upgrade can have a huge impact on all of your culinary exploits.

These pieces were provided for the sake of review, but there was no obligation nor expectation of a feature. All opinions and content are my own.

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Rise and Shine

Emerging from the dark ages of winter, daylight savings time begins tomorrow, pushing the hour hand of our clocks forward and tired bodies out of bed earlier than most would prefer. Studies have shown that this shift is not just an unpleasant adjustment for the sleepyheads among us, but one of the most dangerous times of year. That missing hour of rest accounts for a dramatic increase in car accidents, affecting drivers, bicyclers, and pedestrians alike. There’s no substitute for a proper block of shuteye every night, but when that’s not possible, an extra dose of caffeine doesn’t hurt to ease the transition.

There has never been a better time to re-energize with a can of RISE. Elevating the average cup of Joe to gourmet heights, this brew is brilliant in its simplicity.

Pop the tab to unleash a startling fizz, an awakening of the dark brew concealed within. Don’t be shy, take a sip. An incredibly smooth, velvety texture floods your senses with strong, but balanced, full-bodied coffee flavor. The fine matrix of nitrogen bubbles creates an experience that isn’t foamy or bubbly like soda. Rather, the air pockets are so fine that they knit together in a cohesive, creamy texture. It can’t be compared to beer out of a tap, either; despite the beautiful cascading pour and frothy head that crowns each glass once RISE has been released from its aluminum can, the flavor far surpasses that of any boozy beverage, in my admittedly biased, largely non-alcoholic opinion.

Beyond the superlative take on a standard jet-black brew, unconventional citrus additions set the remaining line of options apart from the pack. Lemon and coffee sounds like an unlikely pair, and yet the two mingle harmonious in this cool, bright, and refreshing blend. Think of the classic Arnold Palmer, combining black tea and lemonade, but with a darker, richer base to approximate the experience. A touch of cane sugar rounds out the high notes for a very satisfying sip, from start to finish. Served over ice, surely this will be the hit of summer when the heat is on.

Blood orange is another unexpected fruity twist on tap, leading with notes of sweet orange that fade into the ground, earthy flavor of dark roasted beans. It’s like an all-purpose, full breakfast beverage in one compact container; just add champagne for a brunch-worthy celebration.

Stay awake, keep hydrated, and treat your taste buds. Coffee can’t stop the relentless march of time, but it can sure help you cope.

Powered By Plants

Meet the new “power lunch,” and breakfast and dinner, too. Before you reach for the takeout menus, reach to your bookshelf, pull out Gena Hamshaw‘s latest masterwork, Power Plates, and you’ll undoubtedly discover a meal that’s far tastier, healthier, and just as fast as delivery.

It’s not rocket science, which is exactly what good food is supposed to be. Gena works from her background as a certified nutritionist to compose balanced meals across the board, which means a solid serving of protein, carbs, and fats, of course, but steers away from complex meal plans or confusing macros.

Arguably more important from an eater’s standpoint, that same approach to crafting dishes with a complementary range of elements extends to the overall flavor; spicy, sweet, and savory tastes all meld together harmoniously for that perfect balance in every bite.

Pulling from everyday staples you probably already have in the kitchen, there are no obscure ingredients that will have you running all over creation to hunt down. Case in point, the moment this glossy new text landed on my doorstep, I flipped through those crisp pages and immediately set about preparing the first recipe that jumped out at me. Apple Ginger Muesli, a cold but bold counterpoint to the usual breakfast oatmeal, was both a hearty and invigorating morning meal. Emphasizing a diverse range of textures with crunchy almonds, tender apples, and creamy oats, there wasn’t a boring spoonful from start to finish. Some sort of strange alchemy occurs by letting the mixture sit overnight, transforming the blend into something elevated beyond the mere sum of its parts. This will no doubt become an indispensable breakfast especially as the weather grows warmer.

Speaking of warm weather, I can’t wait for picnic season when I can bust out this Zucchini Pesto Pasta Salad for al fresco dining. In all honesty though, you could just as easily serve this dish hot without detracting from its herbaceous charm. The pesto alone is a keeper, an ideal blend of fresh basil and walnuts, with a touch of nutritional yeast for that extra savory something. You could spread it on toast (or even cardboard for that matter) and be just as happy.

Soup is my go-to quick fix when I don’t have a plan for dinner or much to pull from the fridge, which is why the Lemony Lentil Soup was an easy win. Although originally written with an addition of kale, I made a quick substitution with frozen spinach with great success. No need to go grocery shopping and nearly instant gratification! Bright citrus perks up the standard stew, a small tweak on a familiar theme that yield a big flavor payoff. Thank goodness I always keep lentils on hand, since this is one that I want to eat on repeat, and I have a feeling that you will, too.

New cooks should find the instructions approachable, infused with Gena’s warmth and no-nonsense advice. Those with more experience should take inspiration in their unpretentious sensibility, with an eye to seasonal, fresh combinations. Nothing in here screams “VEGAN” from the rooftops; it’s just delicious, and just so happens to be plant-based.

Having had the pleasure of photographing her earlier cookbook, Choosing Raw, I expected delicious compositions with thoughtful, sage advice, but these results exceed my lofty expectations. Each beautifully illustrated page sparkles with potential, promising nothing short of a stellar experience in every meal. It would be a crime to keep such a treasure to myself, which is why I’m thrilled to share a copy of Power Plates with one lucky reader! To enter this giveaway, get the details below, and let me know in the comment section which recipe(s) jump out at you first. Do you have a game plan together to hit the ground cooking? You’ll want to be ready, since even a casual glance through this cookbook will make you hungry.

Power Plates Cookbook Giveaway

In case you’re already clamoring to get into the kitchen and start cooking, I don’t blame you. Gena has kindly stepped in to help soothe those hunger pains by providing her recipe for that stellar lentil soup I enjoyed so much. Bon appetite!

LEMONY LENTIL SOUP WITH MUSHROOMS AND KALE

I usually add more than the suggested amount of lemon juice to this highly nutritious soup, but that’s because I’m a lemon fiend. No matter how much lemon juice you add, this soup is packed with plant protein and wholesome ingredients and will do your body good.

MAKES 6 SERVINGS

1 1⁄2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces (225 g) white mushrooms, sliced
Salt
1 1⁄2 teaspoons dried thyme
1⁄2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 cups (300 g) dried green, brown, or French green lentils
4 cups (950 ml) low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups (475 ml) water
1 small bunch kale, stemmed and chopped
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and
cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the garlic, mushrooms, and a generous pinch of salt. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and have released their juices.

Stir in 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and the thyme, rosemary, pepper, and lentils, then pour in the broth and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat, cover partially, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Stir in the kale, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, then taste and adjust the seasonings if desired. Serve piping hot.

Reprinted with permission from Power Plates, copyright © 2018 by Gena Hamshaw. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Fountain of Youth

In a business as ruthless and cut-throat as the restaurant industry, it’s a well known fact that few fledgling establishments survive beyond a single year. Such depressing statistics are far from shocking when you consider the cost of rent, rising prices for food, and aggressive competition on all sides. That makes the longevity of a place like St. Francis Fountain truly remarkable, speaking volumes of the menu, of course, but also the fiercely loyal following it’s created over the past one hundred years in operation. Yes indeed, first opened in 1918, this little slice of Americana has beaten the odds for a century, with no signs of fading away.

It’s the kind of place where some things never change. Wooden booths where young lovers and families of many generations alike convene over classic breakfast fare, no matter the time of day. Nostalgic signage lines the walls, bearing such endearing statements like “we’re glad you’re here” that you can’t help but believe their genuine sincerity. The relentless march of time is evident in the menu, however. The option to have a milkshake made with soy gelato, or scramble platter swapping eggs for tofu, was probably not part of the original plan.

While it’s true, you will find toast in ample supply here, it’s a far cry from the $9 avocado creations assembled for Instagram notoriety; rather, they’re the default side dish to all savory entrees, toasted dry, with a side of vegan butter on the side for all who wish to remain dairy-free. Sourdough seems mandatory for such a classic San Francisco institution, no matter the pairing. In this case, roughly crumbled chunks of tofu slathered in a mild ranchero sauce will cure what ails you, sauteed with as many (or as few) vegetables as your heart desires, scrambled to taste.

Best known for a quirky dish that’s offered as a side but eats like a full meal, the “Nebulous Potato Thing” defies definition, which is part of the appeal. A mountainous pile of hash browns, crisped on the outside, tender and buttery on the inside, arrive at the table like a gustatory challenge. Even the half portion is immense, enough to satiate any reasonable eater for a full day. Spicy pico de gallo is crowned with a generous dollop of creamy guacamole for the vegan version at no extra charge. In this day and age when just the green fruit alone can command sky-high prices, this just may be the bargain of the century.

Like any greasy spoon worth its griddle, pancakes flip onto plates in a diverse palate of fruit flavors. Banana walnut is a real winner, yielding large chunks of toasted nuts and sweet banana in every forkful. Granted, the syrup isn’t pure maple, but it suits the venue for its no-frills, unpretentious sensibility.

Though not explicitly stated, the chocolate egg cream, arguably one of the greatest obscure soda fountain staples, can still get its fizz on with a quick soymilk swap. This may be the only place in the city, if not the entire west coast, willing to serve up this slice of childhood sweetness for alternative eaters. Even if you wake up late, don’t sleep on this option.

Limited hours preclude it from being the late-night haunt of many stoners’ dreams, but every morning, seven days a week, St. Francis Fountain consistently delivers the hits to soothe the hungover and the heartbroken, to feed the community, body and soul.

It’s hard to say what might be coming out of the kitchen in another hundred years from now, but based on its track record, I’d sure like to think that it will be hot, comforting, and easily veganized.

St. Francis Fountain
2801 24th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

Sweeter by the Dozen

They say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday too, yeah

As I struggle to stitch together the right combination of words on yet another post, I find that The Beatles sum up the general premise quite nicely in just a few simple words. My biological birthday was last month, but today is the day that BitterSweet turns twelve years old, an implausible, unbelievable milestone that I find myself celebrating with an even greater fervor. This humble little corner of virtual space has become so inextricably linked with my identity over the years, growing and contracting, morphing and evolving, persisting against all odds, that it really is my own birthday, too.

Let’s not get too mushy here, but there is a deep debt of gratitude that I do owe to you, every last one of you, that has dropped by to comment, like, pin, tweet, re-gram or re-post. That encouragement, reassuring me that I wasn’t just blogging in a vacuum, that there genuinely was interest in my crazy experiments and rambling thoughts- That is what allowed BitterSweet to not only survive, but thrive. It’s because of you that I found my true passion in life, made a career out of it, and continue striving to create and circulate all those adventures (and misadventures) along the way.

It’s given me the opportunity to make friends all across the globe, to connect with people I would otherwise never meet, to share some of my favorite things and find many more. It’s on that note that I’d like to introduce you to one more incredible small business poised to make a big splash…

Noosh turned out to be the sleeper hit on my list of new brands showcasing their wares at the Winter Fancy Foods Show last month. Hidden in a small enclave off to the side of the main floor, wedged into a tiny booth among many, I almost walked right on by without a second glance. How many different types of almond butter do we really need, after all? Just like granola bars and protein powders, isn’t the market already saturated with more options than we know what to do with? Yet somehow I was charmed, drawn in by the slick packaging and straightforward ingredient list. It’s pure, creamy almond butter, but so silky smooth and naturally sweet that you could almost call it almond nectar. In fact, I’ve taken to drizzling it liberally over my morning oatmeal instead of using maple syrup. Since that fateful encounter, I’ve grown increasingly smitten with the stuff, packing my bags with the single serving pouches in case of almond butter emergencies on the go.

As marvelous as the original and chocolate are, this is just the start. Not yet on the market but previewed at the show, I’m not kidding when I say that the Birthday Cake Almond Butter might just be life-changing. Yes, it is THAT good. It’s a challenge to slowly ration out my current supply until it officially hits the market, opening up the flood gates to unimpeded nut butter-based cake indulgence. Whereas many snacks promise a cake-like flavor, doomed to fall terribly short by comparison to the real thing, Noosh actually delivers. I don’t know how they do it, and quite frankly, I don’t want to. There’s a certain magic in that delicious mystery.

Inspired by that fresh-baked flavor and determined to stretch my limited stock just a little bit further, I couldn’t help but turn it into another cake facsimile. Rich, soft, melt-in-your-mouth bites of fudge both look and taste so much like the genuine article, you could easily get away with serving these at your next big party. Comprised of little more than almonds, coconut, and maple syrup, these adorable miniatures will satisfy your sweet tooth without inciting a sugar coma, even if you do indulge in seconds- or thirds.

Mercifully, the tortuous wait for a fresh supply of that ambrosial almond elixir is almost over. After much needling and prodding, I’ve been assured that this incredible flavor will finally be ready for purchase within the coming month. Best of all, so cheered by my irrepressible enthusiasm, Noosh has offered to send three readers a package of their very own, as soon as it’s available. What better way to celebrate a blog birthday than with presents, and of course, cake?

To enter, all you need to do is leave me a comment. If you’re a longtime subscriber, tell me how long you’ve been along for this wild ride. Have you tried any recipes over the years, or do you remember way back when BitterSweet was primarily about the knitty gritty of more crafty ventures? If you’re new to these parts, introduce yourself, say hi! What brought you here, what got your attention?

Log this and additional entries to improve your odds on the official giveaway page until Wednesday, February 14th at midnight PST. Win or lose, don’t forget to come back for the recipe which you’ll want to celebrate all year, every year.

Cupcake Fudge

Cupcake Fudge Base:

1/2 Cup Noosh Birthday Cake Almond Butter
1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Butter
2 Tablespoons 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Chocolate Fudge Frosting:

1/2 Cup Noosh Chocolate Almond Butter
3 Tablespoons Melted Coconut Butter
2 Tablespoons 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1 Tablespoon Cocoa Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Garnish (Optional):

Edible Glitter and/or Shimmer Spray

Begin with the cupcake fudge base: Simply mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl until smooth. Spoon the liquid fudge into small fluted cup silicone truffle molds. Let sit for at least 30 – 45 minutes, until completely solidified. Pop them out of the molds and keep them in the freezer.

Meanwhile, prepare the frosting by going through the same process of blending together all the ingredients, spooning the mixture into spiral (as pictured) or small dome silicone truffle molds and place on a flat surface in the freezer. Let rest for 10 – 15 minutes until they begin to set but are not yet entirely firm.

Take the finished cupcake fudge bases and gently pressure them into the soft frosting fudge. Return the molds to the freezer to allow them to finish solidifying. After 30 – 60, they should be ready to pop out all in one cohesive piece.

Garnish with edible glitter(s) if desired. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to a month… If you can manage to stay away from them that long, that is.

Makes 20 – 22 Cupcake Fudge Truffles

Printable Recipe

Choc-A-Lot

Valentine’s Day might as well be called Chocolate Day. At least, that’s the primary significance it holds in my life. Through relationships both good and bad but primarily experienced as a single lady, the date has held little real significance in my life, other than as an opportunity to indulge my inner chocoholic.

Debate the merits of this consumer-driven “holiday” all you want, but as long as I can sink my teeth into some dark, decadent truffles, that’s the next best thing to true love, if you ask me. Thankfully, indulgent options abound for the discerning palate, transcending the boundaries between plant-based and mainstream artisan products. If you’re inclined to lose your temper or have a meltdown over the DIY approach, there are endless options available for purchase, guaranteed to steal your heart.

Emphasizing quality ingredients hasn’t necessarily correlated to healthier products nor whole foods in the past, but the newest wave of master chocolatiers seem to be just as concerned with nutrition as they are with flavor. Though it may sound like a concept incongruous to truly luxurious chocolate experiences, Nicobella will be the first to prove that misconception wrong. Crafting their confections with coconut oil and sourcing flavor infusions from whole fruits, herbs, and spices rather than extracts, each morsel sings with a bold, clean taste. Some combinations can be a bit unconventional, such as the sunflower butter banana, but you won’t find a single bad bite in any assortment. Snappy dark chocolate gives way to creamy soft centers for each distinctive truffle, all softening to liquid cocoa bliss on the tongue. You can’t help but become instantly smitten.

Finding a true edible gem right under my nose, I was stunned to discover Coracao for the first time at my local farmers market. Sweetened with coconut sugar and bolstered by superfoods like maca and lucuma, these are treats with benefits that could still rival the finest of gourmet selections. Salted caramel sparkles with the crunch of flaky salt, striking a perfect balance between sweet and savory, hitting all the pleasurable high notes of this classic combination right on target. The most famous confection, however, is the Berkeley Bar, and for good reason. A layered composition of nutty caramel and a soft, malty nougat, all enrobed in their dark bittersweet chocolate, it’s truly something special.

Valentine’s Day makes for a convenient excuse to splurge a bit when it comes to dessert, but these incredible chocolates shouldn’t be saved just for special occasions. Treat yourself well, and often, with quality cacao.