A Bridgerton Too Far

Like most people burrowing in at home during the pandemic, I’ve done my fair share of binge watching, devouring shows with a bottomless appetite. Not even discerning the finer fare from downright junk food, I’ll swallow them all whole in one sitting, pausing perhaps for a breath of air, but not a crumb will be left when the day is done. As a respite from reality, even the worst programs are still tolerable. When it just so happens that I dig into an actual delicacy, however, it’s a treat that transcends the most substantial meal. It satisfies my creative hunger, while often eliciting a greater craving for creativity.

Dear reader, please don’t judge me, but I fell hard for Bridgerton on Netflix. If you’re not familiar, the basic premise centers around one affluent family during the Regency Era in London, full of love, scandal, and strife. If it were a book, you might even call it a bodice-ripper at points, and yet… Of course, I find myself most captivated by the food. Particularly, the elaborate feasts, huge spreads set for even the most mundane weekday meals. The singular dish that I simply can’t shake from mind, despite the fact that it flashed on the screen for not even a full second, barely even coming into focus, was the most magnificent asparagus pastry I ever laid eyes on.

(Please don’t sue me for the screen shot, Netflix.)

Tireless internet trawling yielded only a few scant scraps. Promising leads, but nothing substantive; certainly not enough to fill up on. Hungry for answers, I decided to write my own script for this savory plot twist.

Raised pastry crusts were very popular at this time, often decorated lavishly by the impressions of fancy copper molds. Lacking such specialized equipment, my crust is made in the same spirit, but as a simpler springform affair. Contrary to delicate doughs that yield a tender yet flaky texture, recipes dating back to this time were sturdy, utilitarian foundations built upon lard and high-gluten flour. Staying true to the spirit of the task while attempting a more edible base, I’ve employed coconut oil alongside softer white whole wheat flour.

More importantly but also more mysteriously, the filling posed a unique challenge. Of course, asparagus should be the primary ingredient, but what else? How did they stay so pert and erect after roasting, and what anchored them in place? Most dinner pies, and most foods on affluent British tables in general, contained meat, and lots of it. Mincemeat was a perennial staple across all classes, but for such a special event, only the best would do. Thus, it’s rational to imagine a hidden pool of luxurious pate holding those spears upright. Rich and buttery, perhaps a touch gamey, duck or pheasant liver might be a good choice. For me, though, canned green beans are the new foie gras. Believe it or not, the once off-putting tinned taste is the very thing that gives this spread the same distinctive notes of iron, along with a satisfying dose of protein. Bolstered with savory herbs and spices, tasting, more than seeing, is believing in this case.

Pert and perky straight out of the oven, my stalks did admittedly begin to droop after the rigors of shooting under hot lights. Next time, I might suggest cutting the spears a bit shorter, to put less strain on the crust and keep them standing tall. My vision was simply too grand to live beyond the specter of a Hollywood set.

It takes a bit of doing to prepare, but a royal feast demands the utmost of care to pull off. With a bit of planning and patience, even those who aren’t lucky enough to be born into high society can partake in this grand, celebratory pastry.

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Prince Char-ming

You know what’s really good at True Food Kitchen? Well, everything, but I can’t ever get the charred cauliflower out of my head. Ever since the first time I tried it, I’ve been enamored with this darkly roasted, mysterious dish. Teetering on the edge of burnt but never quite crossing that line, it’s nutty, spicy, crunchy, herbaceous, salty, bold, and VERY sassy. It’s what all cruciferous vegetables aspire to be when they grow up.

You know what’s not so great at True Food Kitchen? Well, at least in downtown Austin, the parking. I have parking PTSD from that whole area; I would genuinely rather walk the 10 miles there and back than negotiate those streets. It’s an infuriating case of “so close, but still so far.”

In any event, it’s just another good reason to stay home, save money, and do it yourself, right?! Hell-bent on satisfying that craving with what was already on hand in the pantry, the results were bound to be different, but equally delicious in an entirely unique way.

Being thrifty and lazy, I’ve made all sorts of egregious substitutions. Peanut butter instead of tahini, sriracha instead of harissa, dried cranberries instead of dates. Is it even the same dish, at the end of the day? Nope, not at all. But is it delicious? Oh yes, hell yes. I’m calling that a success.

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Happy Camper

Only once in my life have I attempted any form of overnight camping. At five or six years old, eyes full of stars and head full of dreams, my parents pitched a tent right in the backyard, no more than a few feet from our back door. Safe from the true elements but still firmly planted in the “great” outdoors, it was an ideal way of testing the waters.

It was all perfect. My sister and I made shadow puppets after the sun fell, giggling long into the night. We rolled around in sleeping bags, despite the balmy summer air. As soon as the flashlights switched off, however, I was inconsolable. The ground was too hard, there were ants and mosquitoes and (maybe!) spiders, it was too dark, too cramped, too breezy, too… Outdoors. After about 15 minutes, I hightailed it back inside to my bed.

To this day, my idea of “roughing it” still involves WIFI and running water, but no matter. I would gladly build a campfire to roast marshmallows and make s’mores any day. After all, that’s really the only reason anyone would bother with camping, right?

Starbucks knows this and capitalizes on the concept. Their seasonal S’mores Crème Frappuccino makes all the glory of camping accessible without pulling out of the drive-through line. It is, sadly, one of the few concoctions that can’t be veganized.

Save yourself the trouble, heartache, and money by just making your own at home. Instead of marshmallow-infused whipped cream, my copycat recipe is crowned by a plume of aquafaba marshmallow fluff, homemade chocolate syrup, and a crunchy sprinkle of crushed graham crackers. The base is a simple blended iced mocha, made from frozen coffee cubes, so the mixture isn’t watered down by plain ice.

Raise a glass to the goodness of summer, without having to hike into the woods and set up camp.

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Pearls of Wisdom

Some dishes just have no right to be so good. They’re too simple, too ordinary, too easy to yield such spectacular results. No matter how uninspired the ingredients look on paper, a jolt of bold flavor belies such humble components. It’s the kind of dish that makes you wonder what magic has conspired in the kitchen, or perhaps, some secret MSG is spiking the punch.

Such is the case for the curried couscous salad at Mendocino Farms. The creamy, golden yellow pasta pearls don’t even look vegan at a glance, but lo! Clear labels reassure eaters that it’s vegan mayonnaise carrying the torch.

Decadent to a degree that would make the average side salad blush, a large part of me wants to hate it on principle. One should never add sugar to a savory dish, and at such a lethal dose! Mayonnaise should be used sparingly at best, a breezy whisper across a slice of bread, barely detectable by the human eye. Then, to go ahead an add even more oil on top of that fatty spread sounds purely excessive, unnecessary, uncalled for, hedonistic in the worst kind of way…!

But, falling prey to the offer of a free sample, I cast all common sense to the wind, letting go of those ingrained notions of decency just long enough to get hooked. I can’t get enough, and I don’t quite know why.

Perhaps the appeal is exactly for all those reasons. It’s because it flies in the face of preconceived boundaries of health and balance, that somehow, it manages to simply WORK.

I can’t claim to understand the compelling appeal of the curried couscous salad, but I can’t deny it, either.

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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.

Yield: Makes 2 - 3 Servings

Avocado Grapefruit Salad

Avocado Grapefruit Salad

Something about the acidic, subtly sweet citrus, creamy avocado, and crunchy macadamia nuts make this salad utterly unforgettable.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  1. Toss all of the ingredients for the dressing into your blender or food processor and puree on high, until creamy and completely smooth.
  2. Toss the dressing with the arugula and fennel, and divide the greens between 2 or 3 bowls.
  3. Top with equal amounts of grapefruit, avocado, and macadamia nuts. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper if needed, and enjoy.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

3

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 414Total Fat: 36gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 29gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 329mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 10gSugar: 11gProtein: 6g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.