BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Dirty Diamonds

They lurk on the fringes of civilization, just beyond the beaten trail, breeding and multiplying rapidly under the cover of darkness. Few take notice of their growing forces, and those who do rarely understand the implications. Call it a parasite, call it invasive, but I just call it dinner.

Chanterelle mushrooms are prized by umami-lovers the world over, fetching hefty prices at market due to their untamed ways. Like many of the greatest culinary treasures, chanterelles have never successfully been cultivated, demanding that the hungry hordes hunt and forage by hand for such this rarefied prize. A risky venture for the uninitiated, mushroom collection can quickly go awry with just one wrong identification. As a novice myself, the first piece of advice I would give for any fungus fanatics is to go with someone who knows. Even if I knew what I was looking for on my first expedition, I would have bypassed those bright orange caps for fear of culling something genuinely poisonous. Chanetelles succeed in making themselves look quite fearsome at first glance.

Knowing what to look for is one thing, and knowing where to look is another entirely. The best spots are just beyond the trampled woodland trails, amongst fallen trees and in soft, damp soil. In fact, these water-loving creatures are most likely to spring up after a decent rain, so brace yourself for muddy messy conditions. Poke under leaves and dig around when you find a patch; there may very well be more hidden within nearby shifting earth.

Chanterelles vary greatly in size, but rarely grow so strong that they need to be forceably cut from the ground. Slip your fingers underneath the cap to support it before gently pulling upwards. It should easily yield under pressure. Stash your treasures in a breathable cloth or compostable plastic bag.

Oh, did I mention mud? Yes, prepare yourself for some serious mud-slinging in the most literal sense possible. Wear boots, long pants, work gloves, and absolutely nothing you care about wearing again. Not only will you emerge caked in filth, but naturally, your mushrooms will as well. Knock off as much dirt as possible in the field and immediately hose them down when you get home. Take a paring knife to shave down stems and cut out any iffy pieces. Let them air dry, then wash them again. Then take a tooth brush to scrub away more of the particles stuck in the frilly caps. Dry, and then once more for good measure, wash them again before cooking. Don’t fear the water; larger caps can actually be squeezed out much like sponges to expel extra liquid.

Once you’re reasonably satisfied that you won’t get a mouthful of soil with your meal, process the mushrooms immediately. Fresh chanterelles are extremely fragile and will deteriorate rapidly. Your best bet is to chop them roughly and saute in a dry skillet to express the extra water. Once the surrounding liquid has evaporated, stash the pieces in fridge or freezer for more long term storage. Alternatively, you can then transfer them into a dehydrator to get crispy dices that can be stored at room-temperature, or ground to a powder for seasoning.

Side note: Never eat wild, foraged mushrooms raw, for obvious reasons. Just don’t risk it.

The greatest way to honor these noble spores, however, is to eat them right away. My favorite approach is to slice them thick before baking lightly in the oven merely to concentrate their inherent umami. Use these slabs to top just about anything; tofu scrambles, creamy pastas, and of course, pizzas the world over.

What follows is not actually a recipe but a guideline for my current quick-fix chanterelle indulgence. If you should ever be so lucky to uncover a trove of wild, edible mushrooms, the best thing you can do is to let them shine. In this application, their earthy flavors are accentuated by the deep, caramelized sweetness of roasted garlic, a subtle hit of rosemary, and woodsy smoked tomatoes. Any and all ingredients entirely interchangeable based on availability and personal preference. Just don’t overthink it, celebrate your wild food find, and enjoy your edible plunder to the fullest.

Chanterelle Flatbread Pizza

1/2 – 3/4 Pound Fresh Chanterelle Mushrooms, Cut into 1/4-Inch Slices
1 Head Roasted Garlic
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Flatbread or Small Par-Baked Pizza Crust
1/4 Cup Smoked Julienne Cut Sun-Dried Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Chopped Toasted Pecans
Arugula, Pea Shoots, or Mache

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange your sliced mushrooms in a single layer on one or two baking sheets and cook gently, rotating the sheets every 20 minutes or so, for 40 – 60 minutes. At first, the sheets may appear to flood with water, but don’t panic! Allow the mushrooms to continue baking until the liquid has evaporated.

Remove the mushrooms, let cool for 10 minutes before handling, and raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Peel all the cloves of garlic and place them in a small bowl with the oil, salt, rosemary, and pepper. Rough mash with a fork until spreadable but still chunky.

Place the flatbread or crust on a clean baking sheet and smear it liberally with the garlic spread. Sprinkle the baked mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and pecans evenly on top. Transfer the whole thing to the oven and bake just until hot and crisp; 8 – 12 minutes.

Finish with a handful of your favorite greens, slice, and serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

January is upon us. The quietest month of all, a natural respite from the cacophony of holiday festivities, the days ahead stretch out like a lazy yawn. Mercifully unhurried and undemanding, it’s back to work as usual, but without the same frantic pace as before. Some unspoken understanding allows us to resume our activities with a greater margin for error. Retreating back into the warmth of our homes, insulated under the padding of thick sweaters and blankets, I used to see this as a very isolating time of year. Now I’ve come to realize that it’s just a matter of how we choose to find comfort. We’re actually all in this together, experiencing the very same nesting instinct; whether we choose to share our nests with one another makes all the difference.

Inevitably, much will be said about comfort food in the coming days, despite of the incessant push to “eat clean” or observe a “New Year, new you.” Join me in rejecting these silly slogans, once and for all. Changing your diet or exercise regime won’t change who you are. No matter how far you run, no matter how many green smoothies you chug, your essential core remains the same, and you know what? I think that’s pretty amazing.

Pardon the terrible segue here, but I just wanted to take that brief opportunity to wear my heart on my sleeve, inspired by the deeply soul-satisfying dish known as manicotti to us Americans, or “little shirt sleeves” to Italians. Such a labor-intensive pasta preparation could only be made with love and patience, both of which I’d like to believe are in ample supply as we stride boldly forward into 2017. Fitting the definition of comfort food to a T, the combination of noodles, cheese, and red sauce is one that can’t be beat… But perhaps, with just a bit of innovation, improved upon.

Chef Barry Horton of Sanctuary Bistro replaces the wheat-based pasta with savory sheets of yuba, naturally savory, toothsome, and somewhat lighter on the fork. Lithe and flexible, the tofu skins are wrapped up around dairy-free ricotta filling like crepes. There’s less danger of tearing apart hot pasta while fruitlessly burning your fingers during preparation, so even the cook can take it easy during this meal.

A perennial favorite on the menu, it strikes me as an especially appealing dinner now as we steep ourselves in the depths of winter. Soothing and familiar, yet exciting enough to pull us out of hibernation, it’s the kind of meal that makes it a little bit easier to share openly- of food, thoughts, and comfort.

Tofu Manicotti

By Chef Barry Horton of Sanctuary Bistro

Marinara Sauce:

1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Red Wine
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Tofu Ricotta:

1 Pound Firm Tofu
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
1 Teaspoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock

To Assemble:

10 Ounces Fresh Yuba, Cut into 3×5-inch Rectangles
Olive Oil
Fresh Chives (Optional)

Begin by preparing the marinara. In a sauce pot, sauté the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add in the garlic and cook until aromatic and very lightly browned. Pour in the wine, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer until reduced by half. Stir in the tomatoes and continue to simmer for an additional 10 – 15 minutes. Add the seasonings and yeast, along with salt and pepper to taste, before transferring to a blender. Blend until as smooth or as chunky as you’d prefer.

While the sauce is simmering, make the most of your time and get started on the tofu ricotta. Add all of the ingredients into your food processor and pulse to combine. Pause as needed to scrape down the sides of the container, ensuring that everything is well incorporated. Continue blending until smooth.

To assemble, spoon about 3 tablespoons of tofu ricotta across the short width of each yuba rectangle. Gently roll the strips of yuba up like a little wrap. Sauté 3 or 4 at a time in a generous amount of olive oil, cooking until crisp and lightly golden brown.  Serve on a pool of sauce and garnish with freshly chopped chives, if desired.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Embracing Imperfection

Rarely do New Year’s resolutions resonate with me. Striving to improve one’s health, wealth, or general shortcomings are admirable goals, but the annual effort always feels so contrived. The calendar shouldn’t be the push for these efforts; as is proven year after year, that reminder typically affects change for a month, at best.

2017, however, already seems different. High on my list of personal ambitions is to let go of the perfection fallacy and embrace the beauty in all that is conventionally deemed “ugly.” Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and I’ve found a whole lot to love in the trend towards buying otherwise unloved, ugly produce. Lemons with blemishes; apples that are too small to meet a buyer’s standards; gnarled carrots that refuse to stand up straight. Otherwise delicious fruits and vegetables are discarded in favor of their immaculate, but often tasteless, brethren.

Imperfect Produce is making big waves in the supply chain to change all that. Delivering boxes on demand directly to consumers’ doors across the bay area, they’ve only been in operation for a little over a year and have already rescued well over 750,000 pounds of otherwise wasted food. Those numbers are no small potatoes (although they have plenty of those to share, too) and promise continue growing at a rapid pace, as they’ve recently announced plans to expand into Los Angeles.

This is where I need to go off script and say that this is not a sponsored post and I did not receive anything for free. I was simply inspired by the mission of this once-small startup, and am beyond thrilled to spread the Imperfect Produce appreciation. When I realized that their warehouse was just a short walk away, I high-tailed it out there to see where all the ugly goodness comes from, and I was welcomed with open arms.

Browsing through the line of workers busily packing food into their designated compostable boxes, the real tragedy is that among the immense stacks of produce, I could hardly pick out any truly unsightly specimen within. Perhaps it’s a case of excess supply or insufficient demand, but some of these were truly stunning edible gems, deemed unfit for sale for reasons no ethical eater could comfortably stomach.

Resolve to do more for the local community, your diet, and your bank account by simply eating uglier. You’ll spend a fraction of the cost that these fruits and vegetables would otherwise command at conventional grocery stores, and better yet, you’ll skip the lines at checkout. If that’s still not enough to convince you, go ahead and take 50% off your first box with the code “SPOON” at checkout. Pick exactly what you want from the current seasonal offerings and trust that no matter what it looks like, it will always be brilliantly fresh and delicious.

The delivery range is limited to us lucky Californians at the moment, but I think the overall message is one we can all get behind for the coming year. Celebrate all of life’s imperfections, no matter what form they may take.


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Flying High on Plants

No one looks forward to being locked in an airborne tin can, strapped down at an unnatural acute angle for hours on end, and that’s to say nothing of the hoops to jump through to qualify for such abuse in the first place. Yet we all accept these offenses as the necessary evils of air travel; small, cumulative personal injustices that must be suffered for the prize of a new adventure. On the bright side, this mild form of torture makes the joy of arrival all the greater, if only for the relief that comes from getting out of that maddening contraption.

Every small pleasure found in this unpleasant process is thus magnified, savored with aplomb, in hopes of turning down the volume on the rest of that logistical cacophony. for this reason alone, it’s worth the extra hassle whenever I book a flight out of SFO, because that means I can at least find a good meal while waiting at the gate.

It’s true: There’s fresh, healthy, and satisfying food to be found in an airport! The Plant Cafe Organic lays claim to many outposts across the bay area, but ironically, this inaccessible, highly guarded location is the one I stop by most often. Every time, the only thing I ever want is a pile of delicious produce, and every time, the understated yet dazzling grapefruit and avocado salad delivers.

Thankfully, there’s no need to subject yourself to such pain for such gustatory gratification, nor schlep out all the way to that isolated airport terminal, either. It turns out that while the sharply unpleasant contrasts surrounding this small morsel of pleasure do enhance the experience to a degree, it’s even more enjoyable when eaten at leisure, sprawled on the couch at home, preferably clad in completely unflattering sweatpants and slippers.

Something about the acidic, subtly sweet citrus, creamy avocado, and crunchy macadamia nuts make this salad utterly unforgettable. Don’t just take my word for it, because I’m afraid I can’t do it full justice in a few short sentences. It’s just too good to fully explain in words. This simple, invigorating combination will brighten the darkest of post-daylight savings time evenings.

Avocado Grapefruit Salad

Macadamia Nut Dressing:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons White Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Scallions, Sliced
1/4 Cup Raw Macadamia Nuts
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Salad:

8 Cups Arugula
2 Cups Thinly Sliced Fennel
1 Large Pink Grapefruit, Sliced into Segments
1 Large, Ripe Avocado, Sliced
1/3 Cup Toasted Macadamia Nuts, Roughly Chopped
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

The procedure is pretty much self explanatory once you glance through the ingredient list, but here goes. Toss all of the ingredients for the dressing into your blender or food processor and puree on high, until creamy and completely smooth. Toss the dressing with the arugula and fennel, and divide the greens between 2 or 3 bowls. Top with equal amounts of grapefruit, avocado, and macadamia nuts. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper if needed, and enjoy.

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

Printable Recipe