BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Worth Its Salt

Considering my legacy of dessertfocused cookbooks, it might surprise some to know that my salt tooth often speaks louder than my sweet tooth. Call it an inevitable balancing act, brought on by years of saccharine excess, but it seems that there’s not enough salt in the world to compensate for my reckless, sugar-coated youth. I’ll still dive head-first into a bowl of ice cream or a plate of chocolate chip cookies, but there’s a good chance I’ll spike each serving with a pinch (or two) of coarse salt before indulging.

Clearly, I’m not alone on this impulse. Gourmet salts have taken off in a category all their own, exploring new territory with different flavors far more adventurous than the classic mixtures of herbs and spices. San Francisco Salt Co. is one of the leaders of that pack, blending gourmet ingredients with high quality sea salt for a luxurious finishing touch. While various flavors of smoked salts have been a mainstay of the brand for many years, their newest release offers something unique to this crowded, salty category. Whisky Smoked Sea Salt elevates the concept to a lofty new realm, utilizing empty barrels once employed to age Teeling’s Irish Whiskey to lend deep, oaky aromas to this most humble of seasonings.

Dusty grey and fine as soft beach sand, the powerful scent that emerges from the package is stunning. Earthy and downright primal, like a carefully tended campfire, there’s no liquid smoke nonsense going on here. It’s the truly natural, unmistakable aroma that even the most advanced flavor labs could only dream of synthesizing.

The flavor is naturally a bit more restrained when paired with food. Unless you add a heaping teaspoon of salt to every meal, it’s only natural that it would take a backseat to the taste of the food itself. That doesn’t mean that it disappears into the scenery by any means. As with any good finishing salt, it serves to accentuate those savory morsels, adding subtle notes of smoke that add depth and character otherwise impossible to achieve in a single bite.

Frosting the rim of a tall, icy glass of Bloody Mary, there’s no better way to get a full-frontal hit of this richly smoked salt. Regardless of your final destination on either sweet or savory route, it’s one unmistakable, inimitable condiment that’s definitely worth its salt, and then some.


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Aquafab-ulous

“It’s made with WHAT?!” she reared back in a moment of candid horror and mild disgust, suddenly eyeing the open jar with suspicion.

It’s the not-so-secret ingredient taking the world by storm, dubbed a “miracle” by some and a food science breakthrough by others. Admittedly, to the uninitiated, it does take some careful explaining. In case you hadn’t heard, aquafaba is the excess liquid found in any ordinary can of chickpeas, just like the ones likely sitting in your pantry right now. Describing it simply as “bean water” hasn’t proven very effective in my experience, so be prepared for some serious questioning from the less adventurous eaters.

Beans in general are still a rather contentious ingredient in desserts, but even the most crunchy granola types give pause when considering more savory applications for this new baking staple. It takes a whole lot of moxy for a national brand to adopt such a potentially polarizing new concept, but Sir Kensington’s seems to have no qualms diving into the aquafaba deep end. Despite producing traditional, non-vegan mayonnaise options as well, their innovative Fabanaise is entirely eggless and plant-based.

Plain mayonnaise is a tricky thing to review. As a sandwich spread, it must have enough character to warrant an invite to the party, but not so much that it dominates every conversation in the room. No one is eating plain mayo on a spoon (at least, I hope not.) So to say that this creamy condiment is a great addition to other dishes, but doesn’t have much to say by itself, is a compliment by my estimation. Fairly neutral and mild in flavor, I’m happy to report that the Original Fabanaise nowhere near as sweet as something like Miracle Whip, while still retaining a well-rounded profile. My gold metal for mayo still goes to Vegenaise, but this is a very close second finisher.

Where Sir Kensington’s really excels is in their Chipotle Fabanaise. I simply couldn’t get enough of this creamy orange condiment, flecked with red and black pepper, sparkling with spices in every smear. Despite that threatening appearance, it delivers a more subtle warmth, rather than outright heat. Call it mild in terms of sheer scoville units, but the rich, smoky flavor infused throughout ensures that every bite will be boldly seasoned. Slathered on lightly charred corn on the cob, I couldn’t get enough, hitting the bottom of the glass jar before the grill could even cool down.

Consider Fabanaise another big win for one tiny bean. As if you need another excuse to enrich your own pantry, the aquafaba employed by Sir Kensington’s is diverted from an upstate New York hummus company, so your purchase helps reduce food waste, too. Sounds (and tastes) like a win-win-win situation to me.


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When Life Gives You Long Peppers…

The inability to simply say “no” or even “maybe not this time” has gotten me into a number of tricky situations, typically ending with an overload of extra work to contend with. This past weekend, however, was the first time that those missing words ended with an overload of hot long peppers.

Valley VegFest was winding down, my pie demo completed and the exhibitor’s hall quickly emptying out, when I chanced by a farm stand display of fresh produce. Picking through the remnants, two shiny, green peppers and three slightly bruised finger bananas satisfied my hunger for new ingredients. Already a dozen steps away, the proprietor flagged me down, practically foisting the whole box of perhaps 2 pounds of fresh, spicy capsicum into my arms. Okay, I’ll admit- That’s a gross exaggeration, but when asked to take the rest, I instantly felt compelled to oblige. Why would I accept such a dubious “gift,” knowing full well that I barely have a taste for spicy food beyond the most tame scoville level? That’s one I can’t begin to explain or understand, but here I was, saddled with more peppers than one person could ever consume.

Half of the bounty went towards making green sriracha, still fermenting quietly on the counter. Meanwhile, I had grander plans for the other half.

Pepper jam instantly came to mind, but most recipes called for a paltry two or three jalapenos at most, floating in a sea of food coloring. Packing the firepower of a full pound of hot long peppers, this rendition doesn’t mess around. Tempered by a good dose of sugar, it manages to balance the burn with grace, all while combining the nuanced notes of lemongrass, garlic, and ginger. Thai green curry inspired the blend, which means that it works beautifully in the place of traditional green curry paste. Softly set, the jam could be further thickened with the addition of a second pouch of pectin, but the slightly runny consistency is dynamite for drizzling over crostini or fine vegan cheeses. For the more adventurous palate, a sweet and spicy peanut butter and curry jam sandwich might be just the thing to shake off the weekday malaise. Once you start thinking about all the new possibilities, an extra pound or two of hot peppers may not seem like enough.

Sweet Green Curry Jam

1 Pound Shallots
1 Pound Hot Long Green Peppers
1.5 Ounces (About 3 Inches) Peeled Fresh Ginger
4 Large Cloves Garlic
1/2 Cup Sliced Fresh Lemongrass
4 Kaffir Lime Leaves
1 Tablespoon Salt
3 Teaspoons Ground Coriander
1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Lime Juice
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
4 Cups Granulated Sugar
3/4 Teaspoon Spirulina Powder (Optional, for Color)
1* (3-Ounce) Pouch Liquid Pectin (*2 Pouches for a firmer, more spreadable jam)

For proper canning instructions, see the recommendations made by this very helpful .PDF right here. Otherwise, proceed as written to make a quick jam which will need to be kept refrigerated and last for no more than a month or two.

Roughly chop the shallots and toss them into your food processor or blender. A high-speed blender would be best for achieving the smoothest consistency, but a coarser blend can be quite delicious, too. Stem the peppers, remove the seeds, and chop them into smaller pieces before adding them into the machine as well. Follow that with the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. Pulse the machine a number of times to break down the vegetables into a coarse paste. Pause to introduce the salt and dry spices along with the lemon and lime juice, and then thoroughly puree, until the mixture is as smooth as desired. If you’re using a smaller food processor, plan to process the mixture in two batches, blending everything together in a larger vessel at the end.

Have your jam jars out on the counter and ready to go. You’ll want enough containers to hold approximately 8 cups of jam total.

Begin heating the sesame oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it begins to shimmer, pour in the green curry puree, stirring constantly but gently. Add in the sugar and spirulina (if using), and allow the mixture to come to a full boil. All the while, be sure to continuously run your spatula along the sides and bottom of the pan to prevent anything from burning. When the curry has reached a rapid bubble, pour in the liquid pectin and continue to cook for a full 10 minutes. It should significantly thicken in this time.

Pour the hot, liquid jam into your prepared jars and quickly seal them or otherwise process for longer term storage. Let cool completely before refrigerating.

Makes 7 – 8 Cups

Printable Recipe


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Salsa By Any Other Name

Typically conjuring up images of a raw, spicy, tomato-based condiment (or a spirited dance step, if you’re more of an active sort), salsa by any other parameters can be somewhat difficult to swallow. Divorced from the traditional fixings entirely, nouveau renditions may rely on unexpected bases such as corn, mango, or even coconut- Not a tomato or jalapeño in sight. Are these oddballs really salsa, or just another cold relish? Where is the line drawn, and where would my latest crazy concoction fall?

Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, the departure from traditional salsa is further reinforced by the herbaceous, acidic bite of chimichurri. Bold flavors define this gloriously green amalgamation; peppery, lemony, and vinegary all at once, the cooling vegetable backdrop proves to be an excellent canvas on which to paint the Argentinian marinade. It’s the Swiss army knife of toppings, perfectly suitable as a dip with chips, crowning soups and salads, or an hors d’oeuvre in and of itself. Filling the curved interior of endive leaves, a more elegant summer snack could not be served.

Thankfully, it turns out the “salsa” can be literally translated to “sauce” in Spanish, so it looks like anything goes for this expansive category. Although, I have to wonder how sauce-like my creation here is, considering the chunky texture and lack of liquid… But I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.

Chimichurri Avocado Salsa

1 Clove Garlic
2 Scallions, Roughly Chopped
1 (3-Ounce) Bunch Fresh Parsley
Zest of 1 Lemon
1 Tablespoon Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3 Ripe, Firm Avocadoes
1 1/2 Cups Finely Diced Jicama*

*To prepare jicama, first slice it in half, pole to pole. Peel the tough brown exterior away and cut it into 1cm slabs. Dice and toss into acidulated water (1 tablespoon of vinegar in about 3 – 4 cups of water should do the trick) to prevent browning. Rinse, drain, and dry thoroughly before using.

Pull out your food processor and toss in the garlic, scallions, parsley, and lemon zest. Pulse a few times to begin breaking down the herbs, pausing as need to scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure that everything reaches to blades. With the motor running, stream in the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice, until well-combined. Add in the pepper flakes and salt, and continue processing until the herbs are extremely fine, but not completely smooth.

Peel, pit, and dice the avocados, placing it in a large bowl along with the prepared jicama. Toss it with all of the herb mixture until evenly coated and distributed. Serve immediately, or chill for up to a day to allow the flavors to meld. The avocado may darken slightly when held overnight, so place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the salsa before sealing it in an air-tight container in the fridge to mitigate those effects.

Makes About 3 Cups

Printable Recipe


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Playing Cat-sup

For the record, I hate ketchup. Not just some brands or in some applications, but all ketchup, across the board, even with the classic pairing of crispy and well-salted french fries. There is no faster way to ruin a perfectly good handful of starchy, fried potatoes than to throw some of that red glop across the top. Too sweet to be comfortably paired with savory main dishes but certainly no dessert fodder, it’s that extra piece of the puzzle that doesn’t make sense anywhere in the bigger picture of a meal, and may in fact have come from an entirely different box.

So why on earth did I go and make a quick ketchup, on a blindingly busy day where I had to bake and snap pictures at a breakneck pace? I like to challenge myself, for one thing; Dissecting my reasons for detesting this tomato-based substance, it became a more of a dare. “I bet you can’t make a better version, either,” I taunted myself silently. For another, I can’t resist the temptation to positively bury myself in work, so what better timing than a day when I’m already swamped? Immediately, the ideas started flowing in. A big bag of sun-dried tomatoes provided the initial push, and from a quick internet search and some inspiration, it became an unstoppable impetus. Employing a decent measure of apple cider rather than straight sugar would help cut the sweetness, and a decent bite of vinegar can swing things back to the savory side of the street. Suddenly, this ketchup concept become entirely more appealing.

Unlike traditional ketchup recipes requiring hours of laborious stewing and stirring, the sun-dried tomatoes provide concentrated flavor right from the get go, and the recipe speeds right along. Amazingly, I do not hate this ketchup, which is high praise considering my previous disdain. I can’t say I’m about to slather it on everything that crosses my dinner plate, but those french fries we were talking about earlier? Bring them on.

Sun-Dried Tomato Ketchup
Adapted from Food and Wine

2 Cups Apple Cider
1 Cup (Dry, Not Oil Packed) Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Soaked in Hot Water for 30 Minutes and Drained
2/3 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
3/4 Teaspoon Mustard Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Generous Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Pinch Ground Cloves
1 Small Yellow Onion
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Teaspoon Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

This procedure hardly needs a written recipe, but here goes: Toss everything into your blender or a sturdy food processor, and puree until completely smooth. Scrape down the sides as need to make sure that everything is thoroughly pulverized. Transfer the mixture into a large sauce pan and set over medium heat. It may seem like too large of a pot, but this stuff bubbles and sputters like mad once it gets going, so the high sides are helpful for protecting the walls (and yourself) from gruesome blood-red splatters. Cook at a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes, until slightly thickened or at least less watery, stirring every couple of minutes to prevent burning. Move the whole batch back into your blender or food processor, and puree once more to ensure a perfectly smooth texture. Let cool completely before bottling and storing.

Bear in mind that since this homemade ketchup lacks the additives and preservatives of mainstream brands, you will need to shake it well before each use, as it can separate a bit as it sit. Additionally, it should be kept in the fridge, tightly sealed for no more than 1 month.

Makes About 3 Cups

Printable Recipe

Bonus! If that label caught your eye, you’re in luck! I’d like to share it with you for your own ketchup creations. Here are three color variations for whatever strikes your fancy, below. Just click on the image and print it out on sticker paper at a 6 x 4 size. Trim, and slap it on a 16-ounce glass bottle. I used a rinsed and dried GT Kombucha bottle, for size reference.