BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


12 Comments

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

Advertisements


9 Comments

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.


9 Comments

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


16 Comments

Cheers to the New Year

Defined by drunken revelry and proverbial open bars of debauchery, it should come as no surprise that New Year’s Eve has never been greeted with much enthusiasm in the BitterSweet household. A whole family of teetotalers and working people, it’s frankly a miracle that anyone even stays awake long enough to watch the ball drop on TV. It’s true; we’re just that exciting. I should really just speak for myself though, given that not even the finest glass of sparkling champagne would strike my fancy, while others would gladly partake.

Why on earth is it that fewer people are interested in making non-alcoholic cocktails for us lightweights and cheap dates over here? Seems to me a gross oversight, excluding such a large portion of thirsty consumers when it takes no more effort to just exclude the booze. Inspired by Zevia‘s call to arms, I wanted to take this opportunity to try out their new Tonic Water and lift a glass to 2015 in style. Bitter, astringent stuff by itself, this stevia-sweetened bubbly brew makes an uncanny substitute for the traditional mix of cognac and champagne typically found in a French 75. Authenticity be damned, I’m just happy to finally have a respectable drink to toast with when the clock strikes midnight.

With that, I want to wish everyone out there in all corners of the world a very Happy New Year! May it be the best one yet.

Zevia Faux 75
Adapted from The New York Times

2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup Fresh Lemon Juice
1 (12-Ounce Can) Zevia Tonic Water
2 Strips of Lemon Zest (Optional, for Garnish)

Shake the agave and lemon juice vigorously in a cocktail shaker until thoroughly blended. Divide the mixture between two champagne flutes and top with equal amounts of the tonic water. Garnish with lemon zest for some extra festive flair, if desired.

Makes 2 Drinks

Printable Recipe


17 Comments

Dazed and Infused

After making a list and checking it thrice, there was nothing left to chance for my extended stay in Hawaii. Everything was accounted for, from sunscreen to snacks to strobe lights, with a dozen backup batteries in between. Even so, that sneaking suspicion that something had been forgotten stayed with me, like a single dark rain cloud in an otherwise pristine blue sky. Some people worry about leaving the lights on, neglecting to take out the trash, or forgetting to lock the doors, but me? It was only when I decided to extend my stay for a second month that I realized I forgot about something very precious in the fridge.

Climoncello. Yes, you read that right: Limoncello‘s clementine cousin, a byproduct of enthusiastic citrus consumption and an inability to throw any viable foodstuffs away. Tearing through my immense stash in record time left countless peels in my wake. Compost seemed like a cop-out for these highly aromatic remnants, especially when they still had so much flavor left to give.

All it took was a bottle of inexpensive vodka to set the creative wheels in motion. Elevating some undrinkable swill and making the most of my citrus windfall in one fell swoop, it was a perfectly elegant solution. Let the concoction steep for a few days, perhaps a week, and my work would be done.

But there it sat, in the darkened corner of the fridge, while I was living it up in a tropical paradise thousands of miles away. Only when one month became two did I realize my oversight, but little could be done at that point. At worst I would return to a rotting, revolting mess of liquid garbage, so I prepared myself for a potentially unpleasant cleanup effort.

Eternally forgetful but incredibly lucky, it turned out the the extra time didn’t hurt my orange-y brew one bit! Preserved by the alcohol and sugar, those scraps looked as good as new, entirely intact yet spent of their fragrant essential oils. Even if the Pacific Ocean wasn’t standing in between this project and me, I wouldn’t dream of letting it stew for a shorter time now.

Climoncello

14 – 15 Clementine Peels
3 1/2 Cups Water
2 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 (750-ml) Bottle Vodka*

*Don’t waste the good stuff on this, since you’ll be covering up any unsavory notes with your citrus infusion. Just stay away from firewater like Everclear, and you should be golden. I used Popov, for what it’s worth.

Place your peels, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, and cook just until the sugar has fully dissolved. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid, and let cool to room temperature. Use a pestle (or any other blunt instrument, really) to mash the rinds around a bit, bruising them to release more of the essential oils. Pour in the vodka, give it a good stir and transfer the whole mixture, peels and all, into a large glass jar. Seal the lid tightly and stash it in a cold, dark place for about three months. Don’t rush it! If anything, you’re likely to get even greater flavors if you let it steep for an extra month or so.

When the climoncello is ready, the liquid should be a golden orange color and smell of sweet oranges. Strain out and discard the peels, and transfer the liqueur to an attractive glass bottle. Store in a cool, dark place for however long you can make it last. It should keep indefinitely, but you’ll no doubt want to enjoy it before too long.

Printable Recipe


8 Comments

Soda Satisfaction

There’s a silent soda war going on behind those shiny metallic cans, and it’s not just between the titans of industry, Pepsi and Coke. No, this battle is at the root of every fizzy solution, bubbling up to the surface every time the classic question of sweetness is posed. Should “diet” sodas merely strive to maintain the status quo, sticking with the traditional formulation of artificial sweeteners that may or may not be even worse than sugar or even high-fructose corn syrup, or could there be something better still out there? Zevia is one company bold enough face that controversial query head-on, producing zero-calorie carbonated beverages in a rainbow of natural colors that eschew the classic chemical cocktail that most brews rely on.

It was love at first sip so many years ago, and you’ll rarely find my pantry stocked with fewer than three different varieties at a time. Now, when I heard that they were switching up the foundation, adding an innovative new sweetener into the mix, I was alarmed. Would my beloved Zevia still taste as good, or would this story turn into a modern retelling of New Coke?

Offering the same lineup of flavors I’ve come to know and love, now monk fruit extract, the newest all-natural non-caloric sweetener, has been invited to the party. Stevia and erythritol round out the sugarless foundation, a trio that Zevia as dubbed “SweetSmart.” Strongly resistant to change in general and repelled by the concept at first, it seemed like crazy talk to merely suggest tampering with the formula. Why fix what isn’t broken? Zevia has been the only soda in my fridge for a number of years now, so surely any variation in that familiar flavor could only weaken the brand.

Dispelling that notion with just one big, fizzy slurp, I couldn’t be happier that my assumptions were proven wrong. Sure, family and friends had sometimes remarked that the bubbly elixir was too sharp and not nearly sweet enough for their palates, but these were comments brushed off as unfair comparisons. No, a so-called “diet” soda wouldn’t have the same addictive sugary rush as a corn syrup-sweetened can of conventional soda, although now I see the validity in that point. The new and improved Zevia sodas are distinctly smoother, less harsh and acidic, while placing a greater emphasis on the underlying flavors. That allows the beverages to impart a sweeter taste without actually veering off into liquid candy territory.

Just as good as before, and yet somehow better than ever? Now that’s a sweet change that I can fully embrace!