BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Wordless Wednesday: 1,2,3 1,2,3 Drink

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Mary Me

How one of the most beloved brunch pairings ever became associated with a murderous ex-queen of England is beyond me. Countless were condemned to an early death under the rule of Queen Mary I, leaving her with few friends to raise a glass with. Complicating matters is the fact that the tomato and vodka mixer didn’t appear anywhere in history until the 1930s when vodka began to flow from Russia following the second world war, many centuries after her own demise. Numerous early mixologists claim to have invented the original cocktail, and just as many stories behind the gruesome name exist- None particularly compelling. Attempts at uncovering the truth end up looking about as murky and opaque as the drink itself.

No one needs help understanding the modern Bloody Mary, on the other hand. Instantly recognizable and ubiquitous across the globe, you can rest assured that if there are spirits on the menu, the bartender can undoubtedly fix you the bold red brew. Like pizza and sex, even the bad ones are pretty good.

That all said, there’s no reason to settle for sufficiency or fall into a boring routine. Though incredible simple in composition, each separate component can be tweaked to yield a brave new blend.

Vegetable Juice: Tomato will always reign supreme and for good reason. Naturally balanced with the delicate nuances of savory, salty, sweet, and sour, it’s tough to beat such a carefully calibrated blend. Tradition shouldn’t put a damper on your creativity though; there’s plenty of room for a fresh perspective, and this foundation ingredient is where you’ll make the biggest impact. Shake things up, with or without a proper cocktail shaker, by looking farther afield. Either solo or in concert with pure tomato juice, consider carrot, celery, tomatillo, or beet.

Alcohol: While generally mild spirits that play well with others are your best bets here, more robust beverages can become a more prominent piece of the puzzle, defining the character of the drink. Vodka or sake are your best bets for simplicity, and tequila or gin can provide a refreshing change of pace. You could even turn it into more of a spritzer or cooler with champagne or dry white wine. For a virgin drink, use still or sparkling water.

Acid: Bright, astringent notes are essential for lightening the overall mix, delivered via citrus or vinegar. Lemon juice, lime juice, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic vinegar are all excellent options.

Umami Sauce: For lack of a better title, this is your secret weapon; the component that most people will overlook but miss sorely if it doesn’t make the final cut. Vegan Worcestershire, store-bought or homemade, is the default option, but you should definitely consider soy sauce, coconut aminos, or vegemite/marmite for the job, too.

Spice: Heat preferences are highly subjective so dial it up or down according to taste, taking the potency of your selection into account. Add a touch of warmth or a blazing inferno with horseradish, Tabasco sauce, sriracha, wasabi paste, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, or paprika.

Salt: Salt is salt, right? Not so fast. Seasoned salt can jazz things up, and celery salt could lend an extra vegetal zest. Smoked salt is also fabulous for adding another layer of depth and meaty aroma.

Garnishes: If it fits in or on a glass, it’s a valid garnish option. The sky is truly the limit (just take a cursory look through Google Images if you think that’s an exaggeration) but classic, mostly highly recommended options include: coarse salt rim, celery stalks, pickled okra, jalapeno, or green beans, lemon wedge, cucumber spears, asparagus stalks, olives, or sliced radishes.

With these suggestions in mind, select your favorites and follow the Basic Bloody Mary Blueprint:

1/2 Cup Vegetable Juice
1/4 Cup Alcohol
2 Teaspoons Acid
1/2 Teaspoon Umami Sauce
1/8 – 1/2 Teaspoon Spice
Pinch Salt
Pinch Ground Black Pepper
Ice (Optional)
Garnishes (Optional)

Mix everything up, adjusting individual components to taste. Serve over ice (or don’t) and garnish as desired (or don’t.) You really can’t mess this one up, I promise.

Makes 1 Drink

Printable Recipe


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Wave of the Future

If you can blend it, you can milk it. Once defined and dominated by soybeans alone, the very nature of non-dairy drinks is hotly debated by enthusiasts and detractors alike, struggling to find commonalities that might link that vast array of plant-based sources crowding out the antiquated plastic jugs of cow juice. It’s not just the sales figures that are booming, but the unparalleled variety and access that consumers can now enjoy, just as easily opting for an almond, hemp, or oat mustache instead. New blends are still popping up rapidly, before you can even empty your first frothy glass. Now, along with those nutty and beany staples, the lactose intolerant can stock their fridges with banana milk.

Banana Wave presents itself as a game changer seeking to disrupt the industry, but the whole truth is less likely to make real waves. Built upon a foundation of bananas, soymilk, and gluten-free oats, in that order, it’s more like a thin blended smoothie than a true dairy substitute, bearing a viscosity similar to a simple protein shake.

Surprisingly subdued in flavor, the initial impact was less sweet and potent than anticipated, perhaps to placate drinkers that might not be entirely on board with a fruity intrusion. Flax oil, though a welcome change of pace from lower quality canola or safflower, contributes a discordant note and slightly mineral aftertaste. An impressive battery of vitamins and minerals bolster the nutritional profile, proving that it has more to offer than the average watery mammalian formula. Undeniably smooth and creamy, it certain still has its charm. I could see this being a great grab-and-go snack, if only it was packaged in single-serving cartons. Overall, it’s a great concept that hasn’t yet realized its own full potential. I’m looking forward to the day when I see Banana Wave on the shelf, right alongside the heavyweights battling it out for non-dairy dominance, but I don’t think it’s quite ready to roll with the punches just yet.


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Beeting the Odds

To everyone who survived 2016 in more or less one piece: You deserve a drink. Each passing year seems especially intense right as we prepare for the next, the most news-worthy events still fresh, stinging wounds that have yet to heal. It’s the immediacy, the fact that we’re still so close to it all, that each lurid detail snaps to mind with painful clarity. That said, this one struck me as a particularly difficult slog, through all the losses, ugly politics, and general malaise that the entire world is still struggling to overcome.

Impossibly, inexplicably, some facets of these tragedies give me hope. The worst can also bring out the best in people, and I’ve seen some incredible acts of kindness, courage, and inspiration as a result. There’s still so much to celebrate, and I sure as hell am not going to let anyone stop me from moving forward with optimism, no matter the situation. The key here is community, supporting one another in the darkest of days, which is why my festive drink of the season is one made for a crowd.

Beets sound like a terrible idea for a cocktail, granted, but their natural sweetness and mellow earthy flavors ground the mixture in a comforting, satisfying way. Brighter citrus flavors lift up the taste buds, singing with unexpected harmony, elevated by the effervescence of champagne. The essential inspiration for the combination came from Stirrings, in the form of a challenge to use their mixers in new and innovative ways. This is my entry into the contest, and I’m looking forward to raising a glass with all of the other celebratory entries sure to come. You can keep up with them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Stirrings can be found at Bevmo, Total Wines & More, Draegers, Mollie Stones, Hi Time Liquors, Pacific Ranch Market, Daniels Market, and Bristol Farms stores.

In the face of these challenges and unresolved, unsettling cliffhangers, I turn to 2017 and say: Bring it on. Do your worst. If we could manage this past year, we can tackle anything. So join me in raising a glass to celebrate the successes and failures alike, to move forward to a brighter New Year. After all, I have faith that with such perspective underneath our belts, it can only get better from here.

Beet to the Punch

1 Cup Stirrings Lemon Drop Cocktail Mix
3/4 Cup Golden Beet Juice*
2/3 Cup Orange Liqueur
3 Cups Hard Apple Cider
3 Cups Champagne or Sparkling White Wine
Spiralized Golden Beets, to Garnish (Optional)

*To make the beet juice without a juicer, start with at least 2 cups of raw, peeled golden beets. Chop them roughly and place them in a high-speed blender with just enough water to allow the blades to spin freely. Puree completely, until entirely smooth. Pass the resulting blend through a very fine-mesh sieve or nutmilk bag and extract as much liquid as possible. Discard or reserve the pulp for another use.

Combine all the ingredients in a large punch bowl with a ladle for guests to help themselves. Serve over ice. Garnish individual glasses with spiralized beets, if desired.

Makes 10 – 14 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Weather or Not

Don’t talk about the weather. No one wants to read another dissertation on the current atmospheric conditions in their own immediate locale, let alone those in some irrelevant corner of the world. Not a single person out there could care less about the recent rainfall, temperature swings, or the balance of sun and clouds, and yet you’d be hard pressed to find two consecutive posts here that don’t bear at least a passing mention of one. Keep this up and you’ll have to convert BitterSweet to a weather blog. Of all the topics to open a conversation with, discussing the weather is absolutely the most boring approach, guaranteed to stop any casual interaction in its tracks. Please, I’m begging you, do not start another article based around the weather.

It’s a conversational dead end, a social death sentence, a trap that I’m well aware of and yet fall into every time. Weather affects countless facets of my daily life, making it impossible to merely push aside as though it wasn’t such a dominating force. That’s especially true when it comes to culinary inspiration. No other single element affects the food I crave and create more than Mother Nature, each dish an edible manifestation of her mischievous climate deviance or meteorological phenomenon. Shopping more often at farmers markets and less at traditional supermarkets only intensifies this connection. Given this overwhelming influence, how am I to introduce a recipe inspired entirely by seasonal availability?

Let’s just talk about the food, shall we? The latest gems sparking my interest have come straight from the aforementioned farmers markets, thanks to the brilliant program CUESA has assembled, featuring local chefs and produce every weekend.

Presented by Chef Ben Paula of Sauce, this colorful composition has been a delicious reminder of the brilliance in simplicity for many ensuing meals. A Pickled Beet and Braised Beet Top Salad may not sound like much on paper, but the lightly briny taproot adds a new dimension of flavor to the leafy greens. Utilizing the whole vegetable, each plate presents a complete and thoughtful study of the much-maligned beet. I would wager that even naysayers would find something to love in such a fresh approach.

For a sweet accompaniment that won’t weigh you down, I would highly recommend the Blood Orange-Carrot-Almond Dreamsicle from Neka Pasquale of Urban Remedy fame. Truth be told, the name itself is far more complicated than the actual recipe. Simply mixing together prepared juices and almond milk provides a smart alternative to juicing from scratch, and creates an unexpectedly luscious drink. All you need is equal parts carrot juice, orange juice (blood or orange or standard work equally well, I’ve found), and almond milk. Add the almond milk last to prevent it from curdling, and enjoy chilled. I’ve taken to mixing up the formula with beet juice as well, since I just can’t get enough of the ruby red orbs.

Even if your immediate outlook isn’t nearly so sunny, go ahead and leave the forecast off the menu. I’d argue that these spring-time treats needn’t require optimal weather for your enjoyment.


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Fine and Funky Fresca

Saying that Texas gets hot during the summer would be like calling the Pluto a “little bit chilly,” as it spins around outer space to the tune of -180° C on a good day. Despite being better suited for the tropics than the arctic, nothing could have prepared me for the crushing heat that settles in like a thick blanket by midday, every day without fail, refusing to abate even after the sun has long since abandoned its post in the sky. Whereas Hawaii has trade winds to push the offending humidity to the side every now and then, so much as a gentle breeze can be tough to come by around here. What’s even more ominous and vaguely alarming is the fact that it’s technically not even summer yet. The locals all give a knowing, far away stare and a nod whenever the subject comes up, as if to say, “You just wait.”

Unprepared for but not altogether unhappy about the extreme climate, I would still much rather be too hot than too cold, so the intensity of the daily highs is just a part of life. After the morning bath in sunscreen, proper hydration is the only way to cope. It’s impossible to drink enough water, which is why it’s critical to make those bottomless glasses as appealing as possible.

Enter the agua fresca. Traditionally augmented with a generous dose of sugar, it turns out that simply using perfectly ripe fruit makes it unnecessary to further gild the lily in that department. Chasing after flavor rather than pure sweetness, my interpretation of the fruit-based beverage may look downright swampy, but trust me, the flavor is all bright, light, and refreshing watermelon goodness. While the added nutritional punch from a handful of spinach is to blame for the deceptive color, it ultimately acts as a silent partner in this successful production.

Although I may not stick around long enough to experience the true terror of a full-fledged Texan summer, I know that with a pitcher of this cool, fruity blend by my side, I’ll be prepared for any of the heat or humidity that awaits me back home.

Minted Melon Agua Fresca

1 – 2 Cups Fresh Baby Spinach, Packed
1/3 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves, Packed
4 Cups Cubed Seedless Watermelon
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 – 1 Cup Cold Water
Pinch Salt (Optional)
Ice, to Serve

Pull out your blender and add the spinach and mint into the canister first, followed by the watermelon chunks. Begin blending on a low speed, just to start chewing up all the leafy greens at the bottom. Drizzle in the lime juice and 1/2 cup of water to help keep things spinning, and slowly turn it up to a high speed. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth. It may take a bit longer for machines with a bit less power to process through all the greener, so be patient and don’t rush this step.

Strain the juice through a fine mesh sieve or nut milk bag, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard any remaining pulp. Add more water if desired. Pour over ice and enjoy immediately. Stay cool, everyone!

Makes About 4 Cups

Printable Recipe