BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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The Loaf of My Life

Darkly burnished to a deep caramel color, the exterior crackled with every bite, crisp crust shattering upon impact into a thousand explosively flavorful crumbs. Venturing deeper into the slice, the chewy matrix of long-fermented wheat gluten tangled into a soft, springy pillow cradling a shallow pool of hummus. This was my first experience with Tartine bread, and it was nothing short of transcendent. Even this most basic loaf, a simple staple made of only flour, water, and salt, conveyed a passion for the craft that translates to a remarkable finished product. For better or for worse, I was hooked.

The trouble with falling in loaf (yes, pun intended) with one of these beauties is that it spoils you, making it difficult if not impossible to enjoy the average supermarket loaf ever again. Then, to get your fix, you have to seriously commit yourself to this new relationship; each handsome slab of yeasted glory is a full three pounds by weight, which is no small undertaking for a single eater.

No matter how many sandwiches I made, the loaf never seemed to dwindle. Wasting such a gem would be unthinkable, so it was high time to seek alternative eating options.

Bread pudding is capable of condensing unreasonable servings of bread into deceptively small portions, making the dessert ideally suited to this task. After the third or fourth forkful, the full slice equivalent will be the last thing on your mind, drowned out by the comforting scent of cinnamon and ginger, carried by a wave of succulent summer peaches. Comfort food isn’t just for the colder months, although with that said, I can just as easily envision this same satisfying formula with apples, pears, or a perfectly autumnal combination of the two.

Turning on the oven in the heat of August may give you pause, but don’t let it stop you entirely. Just make sure you have plenty of vanilla ice cream on hand to cool things down.

Southern Peach Bread Pudding

3/4 Pound Crusty Bread, Sliced into 1-Inch Cubes (About 7 – 8 Cups)
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1 1/2 Cups Fresh Peach Puree*
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
3/4 Cup Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Oil
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Chopped Peaches
1/4 Cup Chopped Pecans

*To make peach puree, simply pit fresh peaches and toss them in your blender, processing until completely smooth. Peel the fruits first if the skins are particularly tough or your blender is a bit under-powered.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Toss the bread and arrowroot together in a large bowl, mixing well to coat the pieces with starch. Set aside.

Separately, combine the peach puree, non-dairy milk, oil, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt, stirring until the mixture is homogeneous. Pour the liquid mix all over the bread, and let stand for about 10 minutes to soak in a bit. Gently fold in the chopped peaches, making sure that they’re well distributed throughout.

Transfer to you prepared baking dish and sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over. The edges should appear set, but the interior will remain quite soft and moist; be careful not to over bake it.

Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. You can either take the time to make nice, neat slices, or just grab a large spoon and scoop it out onto plates. Either way, it’s best served warm, and with a generous serving of vanilla ice cream melting over the top.

Makes 10 – 14 Servings

Printable Recipe

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Not-So-Secret Supper Club

There’s no sign out front. No two menus are ever the same. Walk-ins are not accepted. One would be hard pressed to call this arrangement a “restaurant” by the traditional definition, and yet the chef plays to a rapt audience, selling out tickets for almost every dining session. Bay area natives will likely know this poorly kept “secret” supper club well, striking up the band with Sound & Savor for over 13 years now. My first experience in this elusive underground establishment left a lasting memory, filled with the warmth of community as well as good food, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Attending dinners and classes almost as often as they’re offered, Chef Philip Gelb and I became fast friends in the process.

Known as much for his confidence with spice as his finesse with more delicate flavors, Phil has a style that doesn’t fit well into any predefined category, unafraid to cook to his own beat. Now he’s sharing that same approach with voracious eaters abroad, with the release of Vegan Underground: Improvisations on World Cuisines.

The contents transcend superficial cultural boundaries, seamlessly merging the defining characteristics of multiple distinctive cuisines into a brand new culinary adventure. Venturing boldly into unexplored territory, these recipes remain approachable, familiar for their original roots, recalling all the best flavor notes from high to low.

From Trinidad doubles to fiery mapo tofu, crispy fried okra to pistachio-walnut ice cream, the diverse range of delicious options promises appetizing options for all palates. Ramen remains a particular favorite of mine, and it’s a true pleasure to finally see other perennial crowd-pleasers like the green gazpacho and polenta peach cake in print.

Capturing the photos for this fresh compilation, I was lucky enough to experience these meals in person, as cooked by the master, but I can vouch for this home cook’s translation as well. Since not everyone, locals included, are lucky enough to snag seats for these limited engagements, I’m absolutely thrilled to give away a copy of Vegan Underground to four readers! Enter through August 10th by commenting below: Have you ever been to an “underground” restaurant, or have you dreamed of starting your own? Tell me about your experiences and ideas! Log your submission on the official giveaway page, and find additional ways to improve your odds there, too.

For as many cookbooks flood the marketplace every year, there are none that can match the creativity and sheer passion found within these pages. You won’t find Vegan Underground in mainstream bookstores or on Amazon.com, so don’t miss your chance to own a copy today.


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Be a Peach, Will You?

Peaches have been on my mind lately, and not just because they’re at the peak of perfection right now, flooding the markets across the country. Peach madness is actually coming to a close in the bay area, where unusually warm weather has facilitated early harvests and particularly exceptional yields. In its wake, I’m left with memories of almost a dozen peach-centric menus dreamed up by my good friend Philip Gelb, mastermind and chef behind Sound & Savor. Each dinner presented the humble fruit in an entirely new light, inspired by a diverse range of cuisines and almost no repetition between meals. It would be impossible to pick out just one favorite set of plates, let alone a single dish, but there is one in particular that inspired me to head straight for the kitchen as soon as the bold flavor combination touched my lips.

Wasabi and peaches may sound like odd bedfellows, but once you’ve tried them together, the suggestion doesn’t sound so crazy. Bright, assertive spice takes the lead, flaming out quickly to the round, soothing sweetness that only a truly superlative fresh peach can provide. A subtle floral quality can be found in the very best fruits, adding another dimension to this duo. Blended into a velvety vinaigrette and lavished over a simple summer salad, it shines with a clarity of flavor that’s difficult to beat, no matter how basic it may seem on paper.

The best thing you can do with superlative ingredients is just not mess them up. Seek out only the juiciest, sweetest peaches to prove that point with every invigorating bite.

Wasabi-Peach Dressing

1 Very Ripe, Large Peach
2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
1/2 – 1 Tablespoon Wasabi Paste
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

Salad:

2 – 3 Persian Cucumbers, Thinly Sliced
1 (10-Ounce) Package Cruciferous Crunch Collection (Or About 6 – 7 Cups Shredded Slaw Mix; 1 Cup Shredded Broccoli Stems (Optional), 2 Cups Shredded Brussels Sprouts, 2 Cups Shredded Kale, 2 Cups Purple and/or Green Cabbage)
1 Large Peach, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Cup Chopped, Toasted Pecans

To make the dressing, pit the peach and chop it into rough chunks. Toss it into the blender along with the miso, wasabi, and lemon juice. Blend to combine, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if needed to incorporate everything. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil, allowing it to emulsify into a silky-smooth and thick vinaigrette. Add more wasabi to taste if desired.

For the remainder of the salad, simply toss together all of the vegetables and fruit. Add enough dressing to coat but not drench the mixture (you’ll likely have extra leftover dressing, which keeps well in an airtight container for about a week in the fridge,) top with chopped pecans, and serve right away.

Makes About 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Spiraling Out of Control

Will It Noodle? Like the popular series inspired by one particular turbo-charged blender, challenging contenders to step up to the plate for possible processing, the answer is invariably an emphatic yes. Testing the limits of my trusty spiralizer has proven far more gratifying though, since these trials end with delicious strands of vegetables, rather than a pile of useless rubble. Zucchini tends to get all the fame and glory, shredding easily and blending seamlessly with any bold sauce, but there’s a wide range of unsung plant-based options, ripe for the noodling.

Scrounging through the fridge for a more reasonable dinner than greasy takeout or cold cereal, my intention was never to make something worth posting about, and yet the results were too beautiful to ignore. Spinning up an orange-fleshed spud instead of squash started out my bowl with a hearty, substantial base for a southwestern-inspired celebration of summer. What’s more important than the individual components, however, is the basic concept. There’s so much more than just green zucchini out there, perfect for spiralizing. Harder root vegetables can still be eaten raw, but depending on your preference, might be more enjoyable lightly steamed and softened. With that in mind, I would invite you to consider the following alternatives:

  • Sweet Potatoes/Yams
  • Beets
  • Daikon
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Broccoli Stems
  • Turnips
  • Jicama
  • Cucumbers

Don’t stop there. On the sweeter side of the menu, apples can turn into noodle just as easily, along with a full rainbow of more exotic fruits and vegetables. Once you’ve got a spiralizer, you have instant access to endless pasta replacements. Keep on whirling your way through the produce bin with abandon! There are just a few guidelines to determine the best bets for noodling:

  • Don’t use anything with a hollow or highly seeded core
  • Pieces should be at least 2 inches in diameter and 2 inches long to create full strands
  • Firmer, more solid-fleshed options will yield the best results

It feels silly to write out this formula as a full recipe; all quantities and ingredients are entirely adjustable. Not feeling corny? Lose the kernels. Prefer peas? Invite them to the party! In truth, I would have preferred pinto or black beans to fit the theme better, but chickpeas were the only canned legumes in the pantry at the time. Despite that shortcoming, I don’t think the end results particularly suffered. The most important takeaway here is that if you’re wondering, Will It Noodle?, there’s only one way to find out… And it’s almost always a delicious experiment.

Southwestern Sweet Potato Spiral Bowl

8 Ounces Spiralized Sweet Potato, Raw or Lightly Steamed
1/3 Cup Corn Kernels
1/2 Cup Chickpeas
1/2 Avocado, Sliced
1/3 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
1/4 Cup Salsa
1/2 Cup Shredded Lettuce
1/3 Cup Sliced Bell Peppers

Quick Chipotle Crema

3/4 Cup Raw Cashews
1/2 Cup Water
2 Tablespoons Lime juice
1 Chipotle Chile Canned in Adobo + 2 Tablespoons of the Adobo Sauce
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
2 Teaspoons Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Begin by tossing all of the ingredients for the chipotle crema into your blender and cranking it up to high. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the containing if needed. You will likely have more crema than needed for one portion, but trust me, you’ll wish there was even more leftover once you taste this stuff. In fact, feel free to double the quantities and save the sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Spoon a generous dollop or two of the chipotle crema onto the spiralized sweet potato and toss to thoroughly coat the noodles. Place in a large bowl, and pile the remaining vegetables on top in an attractive pattern (avocado rose not required.) Dig in!

Makes 1 Serving

Printable Recipe


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Bowl-ed and Beautiful

A hoarder by trade but a minimalist at heart, bridging the gap between these disparate impulses can be a herculean task. Dishware stacks up in towering piles on every shelf of my small living space, populating the cabinets and drawers, overflowing into the outdoor shed, and still it’s a strain to find homes for every odd garnish. A riotous collection of colors and shapes, few pieces match a full set, but each one can command equal attention in the right scene. Such is the struggle of the average food photographer, forever adding to the archive of possible plating options. Particularly unusual or unique finds hold particular allure, but truth be told, it’s inevitably the simplest options that get the most play.

Everything looks good on white, setting off any food in sharp contrast like a bright spotlight, allowing the recipe itself to shine. Clean lines draw the eye smoothly around the composition overall, comfortably guiding a visual path back to the “hero” of the moment. Bowls like these are invaluable because no matter the theme or concept for any given assignment, these supporting actors always play a crucial role, without breaking a sweat.

Quality whites are essential even if you aren’t building a feast fit to photograph. The gentle plunging rims of these cereal bowls are an ideal example of form meeting function. When Sweese approached me with the opportunity to share this set, I couldn’t believe my (and hopefully your) luck. I’ve found myself using them for daily meals as well as more fanciful composed photo shoots. Win your very own set of four 28-ounce porcelain bowls by leaving me a comment about what you would serve in them first! Log your submission by following this link to the official contest page and find more ways to enter while you’re there. You have until July 25th to throw your hat into the ring; don’t miss this chance to make a bowl-ed statement!

Winning may not help control the overzealous prop shopper, but at least your place settings can look perfectly orderly and uncluttered.