BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Silent Sunday: To Propose a Toast

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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


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Tagine O’ Plenty

Two weeks, and counting. Are you ready for Thanksgiving yet? Don’t worry, there’s no need to rush out and grab a frozen roast from the grocery store yet. As a matter of fact, there’s still ample time to plan out a genuine feast fit for a crowd of voracious revelers. Be it a fancy affair or a low-key, casual gathering, I have just the recipe for you.

Shrouded in mystery as it arrives to the table covered, concealed by the heavy ceramic lid of the tagine. Hot and heavy, it lands with a weight of importance; all eyes are on this curious dish. Lift the lid to release a great plume of steam, followed shortly by awed gasps, wide eyes, and possibly even a round of applause. It’s no exaggeration to say that this entree is the height of my holiday hostess career up to this point.

Laden with slow-roasted autumnal squash, root vegetables, and caramelized onions, the multicolored melange of produce is just the tip of the iceberg. Dig deeper to uncover a warmly spiced chickpea and tomato curry, freckled with fresh herbs and punctuated with briny green olives. Explore further still, and eventually your spoon will hit gold; a vibrant bed of garlicky, flaxen couscous lovingly cradles the savory mountain with ease, supporting and absorbing those brilliant flavors without disappearing into the background like a bland bit player.

Thanksgiving is about celebrating abundance, and this meatless main is the epitome of just that. It’s not trying to imitate any trussed up fowl nor does it care to compare itself against ingrained traditions. It’s a bold departure from the standard American menu, and yet it makes so much more sense from a plant-based perspective. Rejoice in the season and all it has to offer, rather than stick to an antiquated script that hardly resonates with the average eater of today.

With great inventions comes great responsibility, and no small measure of commitment. Truth be told, this is a serious undertaking, a huge amount of food to break down and a lot of time to invest for one meal, but wouldn’t you go through exactly the same lengths for a grand roast? How many times a year do you get to invite over all your friends and family and feed them a lavish, over-the-top banquet, after all? This is the time to break out the nice plates, pull out all the stops, and create a dinner that everyone will talk about for years to come.

So now, tell me… Do you have your Thanksgiving dinner plans yet?

Harvest Tagine

4 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
2 Apples, Cored and Sliced
2 Small Parsnips, Peeled and Cut into 4-Inch Long Sticks
1 Large Red Onion, Cut into Wedges
2 Medium Red and/or Orange Bell Peppers, Seeded and Cut into 4-Inch Long Sticks
1 Medium Delicata Squash, Halved, Seeded, and Sliced into Half-Rings
1 1/2 Cups Baby Carrots
1 Teaspoon Salt, Divided
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
4 Cloves Garlic, Sliced
2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 1/4 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
28-Ounce Can Fire-Roasted Crushed Tomatoes
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained
1/2 Cup Green Olives
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley, Roughly Chopped
1/4 Cup Toasted Pepitas

Toasted Golden Couscous

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Couscous
3 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease 2 – 3 sheet pans.

Begin by breaking down all the apples, parsnips, onion, bell peppers, and delicata squash, and laying them out on the prepared sheet pans, along with the baby carrots, in one even layer. Drizzle evenly with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and all the black pepper. Roast for 50 – 60 minutes, rotating the pans every 20 minutes or so, until evenly browned and fork-tender. No need to flip as long as you adjust the sheets on higher and lower levels as you spin them around.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large stock pot over medium heat on the stove. Add the garlic and cook until golden brown and highly aromatic, stirring frequently to prevent the pieces from burning; about 5 – 7 minutes. Sprinkle in all of the spice and mix well, toasting for just 1 minute to unlock their full flavor potential. Quickly deglaze with the crushed tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the pot with your spatula to make sure everything is fully incorporated. Bring up to a simmer and add the chickpeas and olives.

Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for an additional 15 – 20 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, give it a taste, and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, if needed.

For the couscous, set another large pot on the stove over medium heat. Add the oil and garlic, and cook until golden. Add in the couscous next and stir well, coating that granules with oil and toasting until the mixture smells wonderfully nutty and garlicky. Pour in the vegetable stock and stir in the turmeric. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn off the heat. Let sit, undisturbed, for 15 minutes until the grains have absorbed all of the liquid. Fluff with a fork before transferring it to the bottom of a large ceramic tagine (or casserole dish fit for serving table side.)

To complete the tagine, cover the couscous with the chickpea stew and arrange the roasted vegetables attractively on top. Finish with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and pepitas, and serve immediately, while piping hot.

If you’d like to prepare the tagine in advance, you can make the entire assembly up to 5 hours before serving. Cover and store in the fridge. Reheat in an oven preheated to 375 degrees for 15 – 30 minutes, depending on how conductive your serving dish is. Just check periodically to see if it’s hot all the way through.

You can also create the individual components up to 2 days in advance. Just store them separately in airtight containers in the fridge. Be sure to re-fluff the couscous before proceeding with the rest of the construction.

Makes 10 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe