BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Silent Saturday: Berried Treasure



In case you’re hungry for some edible precious gems of your own, I have a little gift to at least whet your appetite. Click around and you’ll find that the second image will expand into a full-sized wallpaper, which can be downloaded to enjoy as your desktop wallpaper. Simply right click the larger version, select “Set as Desktop Background,” and choose the “Stretch” option to best fit to your screen.

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Cut and Dried

Populated by little more than starchy potatoes and papery onions mere weeks ago, market stalls are suddenly bursting with a rainbow of fresh produce. Giant, plump blueberries the size of grapes; gnarled heirloom tomatoes as unique and delicate as snowflakes; peaches fragrant enough to double as air fresheners; I want them all, and I want them in volume. I’m that hungry shopper tasting one of each sample, even when I know exactly what I’m going home with that day. I’m the one buying three pounds of strawberries for a recipe that only calls for two. The lure of summertime produce is one that I’m powerless against, buying in bulk despite cooking for one. I’ll eat cherries one after another, no matter how many are piled up high, until all my clothing is hopelessly stained red.

Still, endlessly voracious for that taste of sunshine, I can never get my fill. There’s only so much space in my freezer to save that seasonal bounty, and the laborious process of proper canning still eludes me. Options for preservation beyond a day at best have been severely lacking, until I stumbled upon the world of dehydration.

Embraced by the raw food movement for its ability to “cook” while preserving more nutrients than conventional heating methods, the concept itself is as old as time. Leave something edible out in the sun, keep away the bugs and prevent it from getting moldy, and slowly draw out the moisture until it can be stored for leaner times. Humidity, fluctuating temperatures, and the open air itself present serious barriers to upholding this time-honored tradition. Modern technology has gotten into the game, reviving the dehydration concept as more than just a utilitarian function, but also a doorway to more creative cuisine.

Given the opportunity to investigate the power of the Tribest Sedona Express, I jumped at the offer. Though I had dabbled in dehydration with a dinky little toy of a machine salvaged from a yard sale, my experience was limited, not to mention, unsatisfying. Now, after a year and a half of use, I can’t claim that it’s the first contraption I break out when developing new recipes, but it’s proven its value many times over.

This thing is a food drying powerhouse, bearing 1430 square inches of space across 11 trays to accommodate all the produce your heart desires. It heats up quickly and holds temperature reliably, unless you’d like to specify the intensity yourself at anywhere between 75 – 170 degrees. Long processing times are par for the course still, but no trouble with a 99-hour timer.

My studio is spatially challenged, to put it lightly, so I was reasonably concerned about adding the inherent noise that comes with such a hulking piece of machinery into the mix, working away through all hours of the night. Mercifully, my fears were unfounded; no louder than a modest propeller-driven table fan even on high, I slept soundly while the dehydrator powered through the AM hours.

That’s all well and good for basic pantry stockpiles, but what about the more important issue… Could it keep up with my snacking demands? Happily having munched my way through countless rounds of zucchini chips, coconut macaroons, and assorted fruit leathers, I can confidently report nothing but delicious experiences. One particular favorite that emerged through these trials was a buttery, cheesy vegetable in disguise that I like to call “CauliPop.” Cauliflower all dressed up like movie theater popcorn, it’s a compulsively edible nosh. While it would be a struggle to plow through a full heat of the stuff raw, it seems to disappear instantly once kissed by the warmth of the dehydrator. It’s the kind of deceptively simple formula that you’ll soon find yourself doubling and tripling to keep up with demand.

Emulating one of my favorite snack bar options, I knew it would be easy to cut the crap to fabricate an even simpler dupe. Only three ingredients are needed for these soft, chewy, and super sweet Banana-Nut Chia Bars, all of which are readily apparent from the title alone. In fact, you probably already have what it takes to make them right now! That trusty dehydrator was running nonstop when I finally hit upon the perfect ratio, handily replacing those packaged bars at a fraction of the cost.

Well into my 20th month with this beast on my side, I’m still finding new and delicious ways to use the Tribest Sedona Express. The manufacturer was kind enough to provide one for review, but no amount of fancy equipment could ever buy my praise. I can honestly say that if you’re serious about preservation, healthy snacking, or just playing around with your food, this is the model you want to harness.

CauliPop

1 Medium Head Cauliflower
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil, Melted
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1 Teaspoon Coarse Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric

Chop the cauliflower into approximately 1-inch florets, as consistent as possible to ensure they dry at an equal rate. Blanch them by plunging them into boiling water for 3 minutes, until fork-tender but still firm. Drop them into an ice bath to immediately stop the cooking process and drain thoroughly. Transfer to a large bowl.

Drizzle in the coconut oil and toss with the remaining seasonings until evenly coated. Place the florets directly on a wire rack, allowing ample space for air circulation, and set the dehydrator to 115 degrees. The “cooking” process will take anywhere from 12 – 24 hours, depending on your preferences. Pull the cauliflower earlier for a softer interior, or let it the machine run for the full cycle to get a crunchier bite throughout.

Makes 1 – 3 Servings

Printable Recipe

Banana-Nut Chia Bars

2 Large, Ripe Bananas
1/4 Cup Chia Seeds
2 Tablespoons Walnuts, Chopped

Mash the bananas and stir in the chia and walnuts. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes for the chia seeds to gel. Spread the mixture evenly over a non-stick drying sheet approximately 1/4-inch thick. Dehydrate at 145 degrees for 4 – 6 hours, or until dry to the touch, firm, and sliceable. Cut into squares or bars as desired.

Makes 6 – 8 Bars

Printable Recipe


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Grab the Melon by Its Horns

Sharply spiked, thorny, and clad in an arresting hue of traffic cone orange, it was clear that this alien fruit was coming home with me from the moment we first met. It was just too bizarre to put back down, despite its pointed protests.

The kiwano, otherwise known as a horned melon, is truly a sight to behold. It becomes even more alluring once cracked open, revealing downright monstrous innards of large seeds suspended in a jelly-like green morass. Best described as an African cucumber, the flavor is quite similar to this familiar vegetable. Some claim to taste notes of banana and lemon as well, suggesting that it would be well suited for both sweet and savory applications. Unfortunately, the truth is considerably more bitter: The gooey mess is impossible to eat out of hand, watery at best but entirely bland at worst, and overall, quite disappointing.

Talk about misjudging a book by its cover!

That said, it has its charm as an exotic garnish, based entirely on its unnerving, almost unnaturally neon hue. Shock and amaze your friends this Halloween by presenting them with a ghastly glass of rice pudding, topped by this exotic produce pick.

You can’t beat it for shock value, but truth be told… You wouldn’t be losing anything in the flavor department if you left out the kiwano. No recipe needed here, as any rice pudding formula will do the trick. However, consider this your warning: While the kiwano does have horns, it certainly won’t bite back.


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Shake It Off

Oh sure, easy for you to say.

In lieu of a television, the quiet hum of online weather reports has begun to serve as a neutral white noise at times, filling the void of late nights when no other voices are available to keep me company. Focused on the east coast’s snowy predicament more often than not, it seems that the whole country would be talking about my hometown even if the radio’s dial had been set on frequencies emanating from thousands of miles in any direction. Most of the information goes straight through my consciousness, filtered out as just comforting, human sounds, but every now and then particular words stick in my consciousness.

Blizzards… Black ice… Power failures…

So isn’t it easy for me to implore the folks suffering out there to just “shake it off,” offering up a tropical smoothie with an insensitive veneer of enthusiasm? How could I, the traitor who skipped bail and fled my sentencing for a winter in balmy California, have anything constructive to add to this seasonal tale of misery and woe?

And yet, I can’t keep my mouth shut, or more accurately, my fingers still as they glide across the beguiling keyboard. As much as the native New Englander in me would love to grouse about the terrible and relentless snow storms with the rest of my family, I’m much more grateful that those crushing winter phenomenon are no longer a part of my personal experience. Instead, I have sunshine, relative warmth, and yes, an incredible bounty of local produce that manages to grow even now in mid February; an unheard of miracle for someone who would expect two feet of sludge to line the garden beds right about now.

What a luxury it is to have a nearby farmers market boasting an ample selection of my very favorite food in the entire world: Cherimoya. Most people scratch their heads when the fruit is mentioned, and I hesitate to bring it more attention for fear of limiting my own selfish hoard of the fruits. A pricy treat to be sure, it’s hard to justify doing anything with the creamy, custard-like flesh other than dig in with a spoon once it’s ripe. Every now and then, however, one might venture into the land of overripe, at which point the only the one can do is blend it up and drink it down instead. That’s where the idea to create a tropical shake came from, playing off the classic umbrella drink, the lava flow.

Fiery red rivulets of strawberry “lava” flow throughout the classic coconut-pineapple rendition of this refreshing island staple, finished with a kiss of light rum. The sweet, creamy richness of cherimoya transforms the drink into an exotic new experience, which is just as luscious with or without the booze.

So this is how I’m shaking off winter. I’m well aware that not everyone is, or can, but for those with the ability to greet winter under brighter skies, I would implore you to relish every last sip of it.

Cherimoya Lava Flow

Strawberry Lava Sauce:

1 Cup Strawberries, Fresh or Frozen and Thawed
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar or Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Lime Juice

Creamy Cherimoya Cocktail:

1 Medium Cherimoya*
1 Cup Diced Fresh Pineapple
1 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Light Rum**

*In lieu of fresh cherimoya, substitute either 1 medium banana or approximately 2/3 cup of young coconut meat for a different yet still delicious taste.
**For a non-alcoholic version, substitute an equal amount of pineapple juice.

Prepare the strawberry sauce first by combining the strawberries, sugar, and lime juice in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook gently for about 10 minutes, just until the berries have softened and the sugar dissolved. Transfer to your blender and thoroughly puree so that no chunks of fruit remain. Strain out the seeds if desired and set aside.

Rinse and dry your blender before returning it to its base. Slice the cherimoya in half and use a spoon to scoop out the soft white flesh, discarding the black seeds as you encounter them. Pop the cherimoya fruit into your blender, along with the pineapple, coconut milk, and 1/4 cup of rum. Blend on high speed until completely smooth. Add more rum to taste, depending on your preference.

Divide the cocktail base between two glasses and drizzle the strawberry “lava” into each one, aiming for the sides of the glass to create the greatest visual impact. Serve with a tall straw and an additional wedge of fresh pineapple for extra flare.

Makes 2 Servings

Printable Recipe