BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Neither Fish Nor Fowl

Contrary to popular belief, ceviche needn’t include any seafood to be considered “authentic,” or more importantly, to be considered delicious. One of many dishes with murky origins, it’s largely credited to the Peruvians, but it made its mark on cultures across all continents. If one were to look at the Latin etymology, it would simply mean “food for men and animals;” an ambiguous free-for-all with very little meaning other than the fact that it was, indeed, edible. Turning to Arabic, we see the foundation for “cooking in vinegar.” Persian would agree, going further to suggest that it was a “vinegar soup.” Sure, fish or meat was almost always invited to the party, but that doesn’t mean it was essential to the soul of the dish.

Scores of creative ceviches abound, plant-based and seasoned with a wide palate of different cultural perspectives. The most successful ones that I’ve come across take texture into account even before the flavor is considered, as backwards as that may sound. Few people realize just how much of the eating experience comes down to texture, which is why ceviche is a particularly fascinating preparation to experiment with. As long as it has a somewhat meaty yet springy texture that approximates something like shrimp or calamari, accompanied by a brightly acidic twang, you can craft a highly satisfying vegan rendition, no questions asked. Thus, upon biting into a fresh, juicy lychee, inspiration for a new approach struck me like lightning.

As the rest of the country starts hunting through their closets for long-forgotten sweaters and scarves, predictably, the bay area is forced to start shedding layers. The heat continues to skyrocket and the only thing I want to eat is something quick, cold, and satisfying. Ceviche fits neatly into that definition, no matter what else you consider essential. Packing it with buttery avocados and young coconut meat adds richness to this otherwise very lean preparation, fit for either a light meal or a good snack. Packed with crisp vegetables, everything is open to interpretation based on your personal tastes and accessibility. Want to mix it up? Consider ripe tomatoes, cubed watermelon, fresh corn, marinated mushrooms, chunks of fried plantain, or even steamed sweet potatoes, just for starters. Borrow from as many different cultures as you like; for ceviche, as long as it’s cold and raw, pretty much anything goes.

The only inviolable rule is to use ONLY fresh lychees, and I must be adamant about that. Canned can never compare, possessing both an unnatural sweetness and unpleasantly sour, metallic aftertaste. If you can’t find fresh, just double up on the coconut, and choose your own vegetable adventure from there.

Island Breeze Lychee Ceviche

10 – 12 Fresh Lychees, Peeled, Pitted, and Quartered (About 2/3 Cup)
1 Fresh Young Thai Coconut, Meat Removed and Diced
1/2 Large Cucumber, Peeled and Seeded
1 Small Avocado, Diced
3 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Pineapple Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 tablespoon Vegan Fish Sauce or Soy Sauce
1 Red Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely Minced
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Cilantro, Roughly Chopped
Salt, to Taste

To prepare ceviche, you shouldn’t really need written instructions to break it down, but here goes: Toss everything together in a large bowl except for the salt, cover, and let marinate in the refrigerator for 15 – 30 minutes. Season with salt to taste and serve thoroughly chilled, with crackers if desired.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Lazy Day Luxuries

Browsing through the latest issue of a prominent food magazine, the leading sentence of yet another summer recipe round up grabbed me by the throat. Proclaiming August the “laziest month,” it struck me as a particularly bold declaration, forcing me to consider how plausible such a blanket statement might actually be. When else would we, collectively as a workaholic society, sneak out of the office sooner, take longer siestas, or justify more extended weekend adventures? December would be a close contender, but when you factor in the stress of holidays and family obligations, it’s clearly out of the running. Perhaps they’re right; perhaps August does take the cake for stringing together the most laid-back, unhurried days on the calendar.

So, as July inevitably slips through our fingers, it’s time to batten down the hatches and prepare to seriously take it slow. I’m all about minimal effort resulting in maximum impact, which is why I can’t get enough of The Blender Girl‘s raw key lime pudding.

It first graced my hot and humid east coast kitchen a number of years ago and has become an annual summer staple ever since. It’s baffling that I somehow neglected to include it in my initial review of her brilliant cookbook, but I suppose I was subconsciously saving it for the more languorous days that best suit the no-muss, no-fuss preparation.

I’ve barely done anything to the original formula, which only goes to show what a solid recipe Tess has concocted here. I’ve never gone out of my way to actually use key limes, and yet it still bears a sprightly, zesty flavor thanks to the balance between standard limes and lemons. I’d venture to say that adding a touch of grapefruit to the party might be a delightfully tangy addition, too. It’s a good thing we have the whole month of August ahead of us- I’ll undoubtedly have many more batches of this refreshing raw treat to experiment with.

Raw “Key Lime” Pudding
Modified slightly from The Blender Girl Cookbook by Tess Masters

1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Lime Juice
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
2 Medium-Sized, Ripe Avocados, Pitted and Peeled
2 Medium-Sized, Ripe Bananas, Chopped
1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lime Zest
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

It’s easy enough to figure out how this one comes together, but in case you need some hand-holding, here’s how it all goes down: Throw everything into your blender and process until completely smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container if needed. Transfer to four individual glasses or ramekins, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, until chilled. Serve the same day to prevent browning.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Ravishing Radishes

Pungent, peppery little orbs hidden beneath crowns of unruly leafy greens, the humble radish is all too often overlooked both in the garden and on the plate. Offering so much more than just fodder for antiquated garnishing techniques, these root vegetables were once so prized by the ancient Greeks that gold replicas would be crafted in their form. Though considerably less valuable but far more delicious, the plain old red radish deserves just as much reverence today.

Best when picked small and eaten moments after brushing away the soil that they grew in, nothing is needed to dress up the bright, spicy flavor concealed within each tiny tuber. The average supermarket radish is sadly so far removed from it’s original glory that it’s no surprise few people share any amount of enthusiasm for this once prized vegetable. Decapitated in the field, denuded of their glorious greens, and shrink wrapped to preserve shelf life, I wouldn’t want to do much more than carve these tasteless marbles into silly sculptures either.

Even if you’ve turned up your nose at radishes in the past, I implore you to give them another chance- Fresh, full of flavor, and treated with respect.

Tossed simply with a bold dressing highlighting its not-so-distant relative, the horseradish, the complimentary flavors sparkle across this crisp salad. Utilizing the whole vegetable, greens and all, this raw preparation comes together very quickly, ready to start off any springtime meal on a high note.

Totally Rad Salad

1 Bunch (About 3/4 Pound) Red Radishes
2 – 3 Persian Cucumbers
1 – 2 Tablespoons Fresh Grated Horseradish
1 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Fresh Dill Leaves, Fronds, and/or Blossoms
1 Scallion, Thinly Sliced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Trim off the spindly tips of the radishes and remove the greens. Rinse and reserve the leaves. Thinly slice both the radishes and cucumbers and place them in a large bowl. Combine all of the remaining ingredients in a separate dish, making sure to break up all of the horseradish so that it’s not ultimately clumped into one bite. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Pour the dressing over the sliced cucumbers and radishes, tossing thoroughly to evenly coat the vegetables. Arrange the reserved leafy greens on salad plates and top with the dressed veggies. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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All Carrots, No Sticks

My love for carrots has been well documented since birth. Although I have no recollection of the incident, I’ve been told many times over that in my earliest stages of infatuation with the orange root, I came down with a legitimate case of carotenemia. Against my typically paper-white skin, I can only imagine what a glowing, golden orb of a baby I must have been! Perhaps it’s for the best that there are no lasting memories (or photos) of this to haunt me.

Now well into my twenties, I’ve learned to rein in my carrot cravings, but they’re a constant staple in my life. A vegetable crisper without at least a pound of the crisp taproots is truly empty, as far as I’m concerned. Typically eaten without any ceremony, cooking, or even basic preparation, it’s still dangerously easy to take their unique flavor for granted.

Naturally sweet, pure carrot juice is a real treat on a hot summer’s day. Although we’ve technically arrived on autumn’s doorstep, the heat is still going strong, and it just might take more serious measures to keep cool. That’s where this impossibly, laughably simple granita comes in. Little more than pure pressed carrots and a pinch of fresh mint, even the sweetener could be considered optional, depending on the flavor and intensity of your juice.

While most people think of carrots as lowly vegetables, good for little more than filler on the dinner plate, I would implore you to open up your mind- and mouth- to greater carrot consideration. It’s remarkable what a little bit of time in the freezer can do to transfer this pure orange elixir into a bona fide dessert.

Carrot Granita

2 Cups 100% Carrot Juice
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar or 3 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Fresh Mint Leaves, Finely Minced

What follows is so simple that it can hardly even be considered a recipe. Simply combine all the ingredients and stir until your sweetener of choice has fully dissolved. Pour the mixture into 9 by 13-inch baking pan and place on stable, flat surface in the freezer. Allow it to rest for half an hour.

Use a dinner fork to scrape any ice crystals that have begun to form on the sides and bottom of the pan. Place the pan back in the freezer and repeat this procedure, scraping and mixing every 20 – 30 minutes for a total of 3 – 4 hours.

Once mixture is thoroughly frozen, you should end up with light, fluffy flakes that look like dry orange crystals. Scoop into glasses and enjoy right away.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Cashew Cache

In honor of labor day and what might be summer’s last hurrah, the only suitable recipe to share would have to be one cool customer, unencumbered by complex procedures or obscure ingredients. Luckily, I have just the dish to fit that bill.

Step away from the stove! Raw, vegetable-based noodles are the key to beating the heat and simultaneously lightening up this satisfying savory treat. Delicate strands of carrots and cucumbers mingle together in crisp tangles of “pasta,” as vibrant as they are flavorful. Inspired by classic cold sesame noodles, the Chinese takeout staple has graced my table countless times but never in such a fresh format.

Cashew butter takes the spotlight for this round, adding a unique nuance to the nutty, lightly spiced sauce. Deceptively simple in composition, it doesn’t sound like anything particularly special on paper, but one taste and you’ll be hooked on that creamy cashew elixir, lavishing it over everything from salads to grilled tofu and beyond. Although you may end up with more than you need for this particular dish, trust me: It won’t be a struggle to polish off the excess in short order.

Carrot Cashew Noodles

Cashew Sauce:

6 Tablespoons Smooth Cashew Butter
1/3 Cup Vegetable Broth
2 Tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos or Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Clove Fresh Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Grated
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Sriracha

Carrot Pasta:

5 Large Carrots, Peeled and Shredded with a Julienne Peeler or Spiralizer
1 English Cucumber, Peeled and Shredded with a Julienne Peeler or Spiralizer
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/3 Cup Toasted Cashews, Roughly Chopped

This dish comes together very quickly and doesn’t keep particularly well once assembled, so make sure you’re good and hungry before you begin!

Start by preparing the sauce. Place the cashew butter in a medium-sized bowl and slowly add the vegetable broth, stirring constantly to loosen and smooth out the thick paste. Simply add the remaining ingredients, whisk thoroughly until homogeneous, and set aside. Kept separately in an air-tight container, the sauce should keep in the fridge for 1 – 2 weeks.

To finish the dish, toss together the carrot and cucumber noodles and begin by adding about half of the sauce. It may be difficult to combine everything with tongs or a spatula, so don’t be afraid to get in there and mix it up with your hands. Add more sauce as needed (don’t forget that carrots and cucumbers come in all different sizes, so your mileage my vary), incorporate the scallions, and toss to combine.

Move the mixture out onto a serving plate, top with chopped cashews, and enjoy!

Makes 2 – 3 Main Dish Servings; 4 – 5 Side Dish Servings

Printable Recipe


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Earthy Elegance

As an avid baker and dessert-lover, it may come as a surprise that the greatest indulgence I can think of is eating something sweet that I didn’t make myself. While I enjoy the process and crave the creative control that starting from scratch always brings, a truly decadent experience is one that doesn’t require any work. Although I always get exactly what I want when I make my own birthday cake, I must admit that there are times when I wish I could just sit back and relax, leaving the heavy whisking to someone else. That’s precisely where Earth Cafe comes in, online purveyors of fully prepared, ready-to-eat, raw, vegan cheesecakes. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of, especially for a vegan eater who grew up in the days of cardboard bran muffins being peddled as “dessert,” for lack of better options. Balancing out wholesome ingredients with decadent flavors, the result promises to impress all palates. There truly is a taste for everyone, and I was lucky enough to snag a bite of four popular flavors.

Impeccable, perfectly applied ultramarine stripes adorn the top of the Find Your Thrill on Blueberry Hill Cheesecake. Whole berries rest near the bottom, adding a punch of fresh, full-bodied berry flavor while the cheesecake base remains fairly plain. Lacking in typical cheesecake tang, I might describe it more as a somewhat firmer cream pie instead. It may be the most visually striking of the bunch, but I felt it left the most to be desired in tasting.

Pale, dusty pink and redolent of vanilla and berries, Strawberry Fields Forever Cheesecake bears a strikingly bright, fresh flavor, just as promised. More of a custard consistency than traditional cheesecake, the soft bite was perfectly silky-smooth and creamy. Incredibly rich, even I could only manage half a slice at most before reaching my limit, and I don’t mess around when it comes to the last course of a meal. Most regrettably though, it was stunningly, almost stupefyingly sweet. It comes as an initial shock to the system, tasting almost like a wedge of berry frosting at first taste, especially after a savory supper. For those who would rather a candy than a cake, this might just deliver exactly that sensation.

Things got much better from here on out. Adorned with graceful decorative swirls, Rockin’ Raspberry Cheesecake definitely had a rhythm and jive all its own. Super sweet raspberry flavor infused this slice, much like homemade jam. The intact raspberry seeds are actually a nice touch here, adding some textural interest and reinforcing the fresh, raw concept, all while managing to make themselves sparse enough to resist sticking in your teeth.

For me, the sleeper hit of the batch was the unassuming Who’s Your Daddy? Carob Mousse Pie. Slightly firmer in texture than the other slices, it isn’t some sad attempt at replacing chocolate, but a whole new world of flavor, complex and delicious in its own right. Tasting primarily of dates and caramel, with warm, woodsy notes reminiscent of chicory to round the whole slice out, it could convert a carob-hater with ease. All it needs is a light sprinkle of flaky sea salt to really take this treat over the top.

Since I do work with dessert so often and have developed some strong opinions on the matter, I would definitely suggest that these assessments be taken with a pinch of salt (perhaps literally, too.) Your mileage may vary, especially when it comes to your level of preferred sweetness. The only way to find out for sure is to give Earth Cafe a taste for yourself! Enter the coupon code “SAVE15” at checkout to snag- You guessed it- a 15% discount off your order.

From one baker to many others, there is no shame in indulging in a prepared dessert, especially when it’s as good as any one of these luxurious slices.

These product were provided by the manufacturer free of charge for the sake of this review, but I was not paid for my time or opinions.


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Food is the Best Remedy

I’ve made no secret of my distaste for “cleanses,” a concept that merely sounds like a thin guise for a more modern interpretation of the classic crash diet. The theory goes that this stringent regimen of fruit and vegetable juices will clean out the digestive system, remove unspecified toxins, and fill the participant with vital nutrients that are otherwise difficult to assimilate through whole foods. Though it may typically lead to weight loss in the short term, any victories over the scale are short lived, as it’s mostly water weight or the result of nothing more than a simple calorie deficit. These attractive quick fixes are impossible to sustain, and every pound is sure to come right back when the devoted juicer returns to their prior eating habits.

That all said, how on earth did I find myself joining forces with Urban Remedy, a company known to push that very dogma, with their rainbow-colored juices packed into attractive plastic bottles? Thankfully, Urban Remedy is a company that believes in choice, and understands that health is not a one size fits all deal, offering so much more than just liquid sustenance. Healthy prepared foods will always be attractive for those crazy days when just throwing together a salad sounds like a demanding task, and having their array of fresh, ready to eat options is an absolute luxury. I was lucky enough to be treated to a few samples of these clean eating options, in addition to their better known line of juices. Just because cleansing is not for me, I won’t begrudge anyone who truly finds it beneficial, but I’m quite happy to cherry-pick the very best drinks as supplements to my daily diet, treating them as snacks and treats along with my daily eats.

Tell me, does this look like a feast or what? Between the Shredded Kale Salad, Zen Salad, and Cauliflower Tabbouleh, I was positively spoiled for choice come lunchtime. That pesky midday meal can sometimes get neglected on my busiest photo shoot days, turning into a few harried bites here and there, so having some truly satisfying sustenance on hand was a greater treat that I can fully describe. As someone who always does all of the cooking, having anyone make a meal for me, no matter how simple, feels like pure extravagance. Best of all, this indulgence is one that comes with no guilt, only pleasure. What impressed me the most was how fresh everything tasted. I would have never thought that anything arriving in a shipping crate could hold a candle to something pulled straight from my fridge, but there was no sad, wilted lettuce or mushy vegetables here. The dressings are packed separately to keep everything crisp, adding a bright, tangy taste only when the time is right. I was especially impressed with the raw cauliflower tabbouleh, each bite leading with lemon flavor and accented with cumin. It’s the kind of side dish that I wouldn’t hesitate to serve to a crowd- If I could be convinced to share, that is.

Before you start thinking that this is still another austere menu of only greens and veggies, I would implore you to check out their ample selection of snacks and desserts. Of the treats that I was lucky enough to sample, the Crème Caramel stands out in my mind as a particularly decadent departure from your standard “healthy” dessert. Thick and silky smooth, the texture was absolutely luscious, bearing a deep, rich, earthy caramel flavor that was accentuated with a touch of salt. Crunchy caramelized almonds added textural interest that made this grand finale particularly irresistible. Those fudgy Almond Brownies are not to be overlooked though; super soft, immediately yielding to the most timid of nibbles, the rich cacao squares effortlessly melt in your mouth.

Without hesitation, I would recommend Urban Remedy to anyone who wants to kick-start a healthy eating program or squeeze in some real nourishment on a busy schedule. Such delicious convenience does come at a price though, which will unfortunately be the single factor preventing me from ordering regularly. Happily, for a limited time, you can snag a discount off your order by entering the code FallSpecial at checkout for 15% off $150, 20% off $225 or 25% off $300 or more. Whether you’re into the concept of cleanses or not, you’ll want to take advantage of this opportunity; this unrivaled marriage of flavor and nutrition is worth every cent.