BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Salty Language

Sweet loves salty; salty loves sweet. Together, they give life to a far greater taste sensation than either could achieve individually. Even casual bakers have gotten hip to the fact that an extra pinch of salt really makes their cookies pop and chocolates sing, but what happens when you add a touch of umami into the mix?

Reach beyond the salt shaker and head straight for miso paste for this sticky, sultry caramel sauce.

Pure sodium can do wonders for this burnt sugar syrup, effectively reducing the inherent bitterness created in the Maillard reaction while simultaneously enhancing the impact of its overall sweetness. No wonder why simple salted caramel has taken hold of eaters worldwide- Even those crazy enough to declare themselves unaffected by the siren song of sugar. Now, take those same flavor enhancing properties and bolster them with a seductively savory edge, and you’ve just elevated your dish to an entirely new realm of decadence.

Cara-miso, my miso-infused caramel sauce, has no boundaries when it comes to usage. Chocolate cake pops with every bite when you grace it with a tiny drizzle; black coffee comes to life with a taste that will make you forget all about any pumpkin spice nonsense; whipped coconut cream sparks and pops with just a few drops. Naturally, this endlessly versatile syrup finds itself most at home atop luscious scoops of ice cream, but that alone wasn’t enough to satisfy my sweet tooth during the latest great heatwave. Take it even one step further for the single best milkshake you will ever stick a straw into.

If that photo alone doesn’t have you scrambling into the kitchen, I don’t know what will. Thankfully, once you whip up a batch of the caramel sauce, you’ll have enough for a few more rounds of this crave-worthy nectar made in sweet and salty heaven. Still, it might not hurt to double it, just in case.

Cara-Miso Milkshake:

2 Cups Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Vanilla Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Miso Caramel Sauce, Plus More for Garnish (see following recipe)
Whipped Coconut Cream (Optional)

Cara-Miso (Miso Caramel) Sauce:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
3/4 Cup Full Fat Coconut Milk
3 Tablespoons Sweet White Miso Paste
3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

To make the milkshake, simply combine the ice cream, almond milk, and caramel sauce in a blender and blend until smooth. Divide the mixture between two glasses and top with whipped coconut cream and additional caramel sauce, if desired.

For the miso caramel sauce, combine the sugar and water in medium-sized saucepan. Place the sugar and water inside before setting over moderate heat. Resist the urge to stir, but rather, gently swirl the pan in a circular motion mix the contents.

Meanwhile, mix together a few tablespoons of coconut milk with the miso paste. Whisk vigorously to thoroughly incorporate the miso. Make sure that there are no remaining lumps before stirring in the rest of the coconut milk, and set aside.

Continue to cook the sugar mixture, swirling occasionally, until it turns deep amber in color, but do not allow it to begin smoking or smelling burnt. You want to cook it to a fairly dark shade to give it the most flavor, but if it smells burnt, it’s already too late and you must start again. Once it begins to color, it will progress very quickly, so do not walk away at this point.

Once deeply colored, very carefully pour in the coconut milk along with the coconut oil. The mixture is likely to sputter and bubble up, so you may want to stand to the side while making this addition, and it’s not a bad idea to wear long sleeves to cover your arms, just in case. The mixture may seize and crystallize slightly, but don’t worry, it’s easy to fix. Continue to cook the syrup over gentle heat until any crystals are dissolved and the mixture is completely smooth again. Stir in the salt and turn off the heat.

Let cool completely before using or storing in a glass jar.

Milkshake Makes 2 Servings
Caramel Sauce Makes about 1 1/2 Cups

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Ask the Magic Eight Ball

Did you have one of these all-knowing oracles when you were a kid? An insightful and sage advisor with a clear vision of the future, the magic eight ball was indispensable for an indecisive child like myself. Such helpful words of wisdom it dispensed on command! So many problems solved in an instant!

Okay, in truth, my magic eight ball was not the greatest resource in trying times. Maybe it was still in training as a psychic, or had some commitment issues, but I could never seem to get a straight answer out of that thing. Even if I asked it something simple, like, “should I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch?” it would respond with something dismissive. “ask again later,” or “cannot predict now” were the top two results, no matter how lovingly or aggressively that silly plastic ball was shaken. I doubt it even had a single word of positive reinforcement to offer from its narrow rolodex of comments.

Many years later, I’ve come to find that I was seeking inspiration from the wrong eight ball entirely. Eight ball zucchini, while lacking in fortune telling skills, are unmatched in their culinary consolation. No matter how many zucchini have infiltrated your kitchen at this late stage of the summer harvest, these compact spheres can instantly renew your enthusiasm for the green squash.

Begging to be stuffed with delights both sweet and savory, there’s no limit to their potential, unlike the answers offered by an old-school magic eight ball.

Imagine, if you would, the ultimate breakfast and brunch entree. An eggless custard that falls somewhere between a soft scramble and a tender omelette, bursting with fresh vegetables and simple, comforting savory flavors. The essence of summer resounds in every bite. Who could stay hung up on murky future fates when you’ve got one of these lucky little orbs on your plate? Ask of them only questions of utmost importance, like when will the meal be served, and I promise you’ll never walk away disappointed.

Eggless Omelette Eight Ball Zucchini

4 – 5 Medium-Sized Eight Ball Zucchini
1/2 Cup Garbanzo Bean Flour
2 Tablespoons Fresh Dill or Basil, Minced
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Kala Namak (Black Salt)
1/8 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/3 Cup Chopped Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1/4 Cup Diced Red Onion
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and set out a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat.

Slice the stems off the zucchinis about 1/2 an inch from the top and set aside. Using a pointed teaspoon, grapefruit spoon, or melon baller, hollow out the insides of the squash, leaving about a 1/4-inch thick wall on the sides and bottom. Roughly chop the innards and set aside. Brush lightly with olive oil, inside and out, and place the squash shells on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until fork-tender but still firm.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by whisking together the garbanzo bean flour, fresh herbs, arrowroot, garlic powder, black salt, pepper, and turmeric. Make sure that all the dry ingredients are well combined before adding in the leftover zucchini pieces, sun-dried tomatoes, and onion, tossing to coat. Pour the vegetable stock, oil, and vinegar in all at once, and whisk until smooth (aside from the vegetable additions, of course.)

After par-baking, fill the zucchini up to the top with the eggless omelette mixture. Place the zucchini tops on the baking sheet next to them, lightly brush with oil, and return the whole thing to the oven.

Bake until the filling is softly set; about 30 – 35 minutes. Serve right away while piping hot, or let cool to enjoy at room temperature.

Makes 4 – 5 Stuffed Eight Ball Zucchinis; 2 – 3 Servings

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For the Sake of Sake

While much of the country closes up their beach chairs and dusts off their long sleeve shirts, things are just beginning to heat up in the bay area. Summer always arrives fashionably late, yet the visit never fails to catch us by surprise. When temperatures jump over 20 degrees in a day, topping out around 110 in some particularly hellish pockets of the city, talk of pumpkin spice lattes sounds like a cruel joke. If I should so much as contemplate operating the oven, I swear my entire kitchen would likely ignite like a tinderbox full of gunpowder. After this record-breaking weekend, I can easily imagine what it feels like to live on the surface of the sun.

Cooking under such conditions is out of the question. Rational cravings and hunger goes straight out the window too, for that matter. If it’s not coming straight out of the fridge or freezer, I don’t want to know about it. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and only one thing in my arsenal could effectively take the edge off: Ice-cold coffee sake.

Typically a non-drinker, no one is more surprised than I by how quickly sake has become a prized indulgence for me. I’m blaming it entirely on Takara Sake, Berkeley-based sake makers that offer mini museum tours followed by generous tasting flights. There, I discovered that sake is so much more than just fermented liquid rice, and so much more drinkable than the average swill I’m accustomed to. One of their more unusual offerings include sparkling sake, which reminds me of soda; already a guilty pleasure going on many years now. What really hooked me on my last visit, however, was the sweet coffee-flavored sake, a genuine dessert drink that can rival the best coffee liqueur on the shelf.

After securing a sleek bottle for myself, for whatever reason, the first thing that popped into my head was tiramisu. The situation called for something considerably cooler though, so creating a fleet of creamy, subtly spiked popsicles seemed like the only rational option.

Forget about baking ladyfingers or any fussy cake. Since it will simply soften in the sweet, slightly tangy base, crushed vanilla cookies work perfectly fine for this application, soaking up all the sake with ease. If you don’t have access to this heavenly elixir, you can use any plain sake and just increase the instant coffee powder to taste.

Tirami-Sake Pops

1 8-Ounce Container Vegan Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Coffee Sake, Divided
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
6 Vanilla Sandwich Cookies, Roughly Crushed
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Granules
1 Teaspoon Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder

To make the creamy base, simply blend the cream cheese, sugar, non-dairy milk, 2 tablespoons of the sake, vanilla, and salt together until smooth.

Separately, mix the crushed cookies, the remaining sake, instant coffee, and cocoa powder in a small bowl, stirring thoroughly until the coffee granules have dissolved.

Layer the base and the cookie mush into popsicle molds of your choice. Insert sticks and stash on a level surface in your freezer. Let rest for at least 4 hours, or until solid.

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Jack of All Trades

Anything meat can do, plants can do better.

This isn’t news, but affirmation of fact. Brilliant marvels of engineering, science, and nutrition are bringing greater alternatives to the market every day, but sometimes it seems like the best substitutes have been right under our noses all along, growing in plain sight. Jackfruit is that underdog; the geeky guy in high school that ends up getting the girl and beating the popular kids at their own game. All it takes is a new perspective, some small insight and self-discovery, to unlock its full potential.

Though I adore eating the fresh, sweet fruit, the young, canned jackfruit in brine is the meat of the matter here. Slowly simmered in an aromatic marinade inspired by sweet tea, an irreplaceable summertime brew designed for maximum refreshment, these immature arils tenderize to a texture almost indistinguishable from pulled pork. Spiked with fresh lemon, it has a tart, sweet-and-sour balance, pulling out all the savory stops.

Deceptively simple, the ginger-scallion slaw is not to be underestimated, nor overlooked. Crisp, cooling, yet bright and invigorating in flavor, I could honestly just eat this by the bowlful. It’s an ideal foil to the richly meaty main, and truly completes this deeply satisfying sandwich.

Thinking along the lines of complete culinary inclusion and offering a main dish to suit all diets, I was also inspired by the Steviva Blogger Challenge.

Sugar is neither stranger nor foe to me. As a baker with a serious sweet tooth, I consider myself very lucky that it’s one ingredient that I don’t need to worry about. Many are far more sensitive, and it always bums me out when I can’t share my latest creations with them. For this dish, while you could use plain granulated sugar in a pinch, plant-based Erysweet, made of erythritol, sweetens the deal. It’s not as sweet as table sugar, so it merely smooths out the harsh edges of the citrus and tea in this tangy marinade.

Life is sweeter when it can be shared. Meatless, sugarless, or otherwise, this is a dish that everyone can enjoy*.

*This is especially true if you use tamari instead of soy sauce and opt for gluten-free buns if wheat is an additional concern!

Sugar-Free Sweet Tea Pulled Jackfruit

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Medium Red Onion, Thinly Sliced (About 1 Cup)
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Black Tea Leaves
1/4 Cup Erysweet (or 3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar if Not Sugar-Free)
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
14 Ounces Young Jackfruit, Drained and Rinsed
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary, Crushed
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Ginger-Scallion Slaw:

1 Cup Roughly Chopped Scallions
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Chopped
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Medium Head Green Cabbage, Shredded (about 6 Cups)
1 Cup Shredded Carrots

3 – 4 Sandwich Buns, for Serving

Place a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Add the oil and onion, stirring periodically until softened and aromatic. Introduce the garlic and tea leaves next, cooking until golden all over. Give it time, because this could take 10 – 15 minutes to properly brown. Stir in the Erysweet (or sugar, if you’re not worried about making this sugar-free) and then quickly deglaze by pouring in the lemon juice, vegetable stock, and soy sauce all at once. Thoroughly scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure that nothing is sticking and burning.

Add the jackfruit, rosemary, and pepper next, stirring gently to incorporate without splashing. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer until most of the liquid evaporates; about 20 – 30 minutes. Use the side of your spatula to roughly mash/shred the jackfruit once it’s fork-tender.

For the slaw, toss the scallions, ginger, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt into your blender. Pulse to break down the more fibrous aromatics, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container if needed. With the motor running, slowly stream in the olive oil to achieve a creamy emulsification. Pour the dressing over the cabbage and carrots in a large bowl, mixing to thoroughly coat all of the veggie shreds.

To serve, lightly toast the buns and top with generous spoonfuls of the stewed jackfruit and slaw. Devour immediately! These are unapologetically messy sandwiches, so don’t be afraid to dive right in trying to be dainty about it. The buns will only grow progressively more soggy once fully assembled.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

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As Good As Ten Mothers

Instantly, his face contorted with a mixture of skepticism and disgust. Though I knew the concept was a bit unconventional, I didn’t realize just how contentious it could be. Just one mention of the recipe sent this man into a fit of mock dry heaves, illustrating the depth of his disapproval with comic effect.

That’s when I knew I had to make it.

More infamous than any other single element of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, garlic ice cream has become the main event for many. Tiny cones of soft serve can be found in every corner of the pungent fair grounds, delighting and appalling in equal measure. Gaining mainstream traction, or at least dubious acceptance, purely as a novelty, the idea nonetheless captured my imagination. Rather than playing it up as a token offering merely for shock value, my goal was to truly celebrate the sweeter side of garlic.

Slowly roasted to golden caramelized perfection, the cloves lose their assertive, harsh bite, bringing their natural sugars to the fore. Every cook and eater the world over has experienced this glorious transformation and knows the magic well. The real secret ingredient in my blend, however, is black garlic. Aged for at least 30 days, the cloves turn into spreadable nuggets of pure garlic candy. The mysterious process transforms the ubiquitous seasoning into an entirely new ingredient, difficult to describe but impossible to forget. It’s the key here to balancing out the more savory undertones of the garlic, while maintaining its integrity. The end results should still taste like garlic, after all- Not like syrupy scampi sauce.

Crunchy garlic chips aren’t necessary to enjoy the full effect of this ode to garlic, but they do undeniably elevate it to a higher level, fit for a fancy affair if you should be so bold. Though they make the scoops look tiny, go for the giant, oversized cloves found in elephant garlic, which are easily 4 times the size of the average bulb and far milder in flavor. They’ll add a satisfying crunch to contrast with this creamy, cool treat.

Granted, this unusual frozen dessert will not be for everyone, like my aforementioned critical friend. Proceed with an open mind and a genuine love of garlic, and you will be in for a treat.

In reference to the post title, if you didn’t see the eponymous documentary, you really must do yourself a favor and download it, posthaste. Another friend on mine, not featured in this brief story, has told me that it was what inspired her to move to California many years ago.

Garlic Ice Cream

3 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 1/2 Tablespoons Arrowroot
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Vegan Cream Cheese
1 Tablespoon Black Garlic, Mashed
2 Teaspoons Roasted Garlic, Mashed

Garlic Chips (Optional):

2 – 3 Cloves Elephant Garlic
Olive Oil Spray

To make the ice cream, simply toss all the ingredients into your trusty blender or food processor. Thoroughly puree on high speed for for 2 – 3 minutes, until completely smooth. Pass the mixture through a fine strainer to ensure a flawlessly silky texture, if desired.

Transfer to a medium saucepan and set over moderate heat. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the mixture just comes to a boil. Turn off the heat and let cool. Chill for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator before churning in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Spoon the soft ice cream into an airtight container, and let set in the freezer for at least 3 hours before serving, until solid enough to scoop.

For the garlic chips, peel and slice the giant cloves of elephant garlic as thinly as possible. If you have a small mandoline to ensure consistency, now is when you want to break it out. Lay out the slices in one even layer on a silpat- or parchment paper-line baking sheet, making sure that none overlap.

Lightly spritz with olive oil to evenly coat the pieces. Bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees 15 – 30 minutes (depending on the thickness of your slices), rotating the pan and flipping over the slices every 10 minutes or so to ensure even cooking, until golden brown and crispy. Let cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 – 3 days, maximum. Top scoops of ice cream with garlic chips as desired.

Makes About 1 Quart Ice Cream

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The Loaf of My Life

Darkly burnished to a deep caramel color, the exterior crackled with every bite, crisp crust shattering upon impact into a thousand explosively flavorful crumbs. Venturing deeper into the slice, the chewy matrix of long-fermented wheat gluten tangled into a soft, springy pillow cradling a shallow pool of hummus. This was my first experience with Tartine bread, and it was nothing short of transcendent. Even this most basic loaf, a simple staple made of only flour, water, and salt, conveyed a passion for the craft that translates to a remarkable finished product. For better or for worse, I was hooked.

The trouble with falling in loaf (yes, pun intended) with one of these beauties is that it spoils you, making it difficult if not impossible to enjoy the average supermarket loaf ever again. Then, to get your fix, you have to seriously commit yourself to this new relationship; each handsome slab of yeasted glory is a full three pounds by weight, which is no small undertaking for a single eater.

No matter how many sandwiches I made, the loaf never seemed to dwindle. Wasting such a gem would be unthinkable, so it was high time to seek alternative eating options.

Bread pudding is capable of condensing unreasonable servings of bread into deceptively small portions, making the dessert ideally suited to this task. After the third or fourth forkful, the full slice equivalent will be the last thing on your mind, drowned out by the comforting scent of cinnamon and ginger, carried by a wave of succulent summer peaches. Comfort food isn’t just for the colder months, although with that said, I can just as easily envision this same satisfying formula with apples, pears, or a perfectly autumnal combination of the two.

Turning on the oven in the heat of August may give you pause, but don’t let it stop you entirely. Just make sure you have plenty of vanilla ice cream on hand to cool things down.

Southern Peach Bread Pudding

3/4 Pound Crusty Bread, Sliced into 1-Inch Cubes (About 7 – 8 Cups)
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1 1/2 Cups Fresh Peach Puree*
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
3/4 Cup Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Oil
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Chopped Peaches
1/4 Cup Chopped Pecans

*To make peach puree, simply pit fresh peaches and toss them in your blender, processing until completely smooth. Peel the fruits first if the skins are particularly tough or your blender is a bit under-powered.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Toss the bread and arrowroot together in a large bowl, mixing well to coat the pieces with starch. Set aside.

Separately, combine the peach puree, non-dairy milk, oil, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt, stirring until the mixture is homogeneous. Pour the liquid mix all over the bread, and let stand for about 10 minutes to soak in a bit. Gently fold in the chopped peaches, making sure that they’re well distributed throughout.

Transfer to you prepared baking dish and sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over. The edges should appear set, but the interior will remain quite soft and moist; be careful not to over bake it.

Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. You can either take the time to make nice, neat slices, or just grab a large spoon and scoop it out onto plates. Either way, it’s best served warm, and with a generous serving of vanilla ice cream melting over the top.

Makes 10 – 14 Servings

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Be a Peach, Will You?

Peaches have been on my mind lately, and not just because they’re at the peak of perfection right now, flooding the markets across the country. Peach madness is actually coming to a close in the bay area, where unusually warm weather has facilitated early harvests and particularly exceptional yields. In its wake, I’m left with memories of almost a dozen peach-centric menus dreamed up by my good friend Philip Gelb, mastermind and chef behind Sound & Savor. Each dinner presented the humble fruit in an entirely new light, inspired by a diverse range of cuisines and almost no repetition between meals. It would be impossible to pick out just one favorite set of plates, let alone a single dish, but there is one in particular that inspired me to head straight for the kitchen as soon as the bold flavor combination touched my lips.

Wasabi and peaches may sound like odd bedfellows, but once you’ve tried them together, the suggestion doesn’t sound so crazy. Bright, assertive spice takes the lead, flaming out quickly to the round, soothing sweetness that only a truly superlative fresh peach can provide. A subtle floral quality can be found in the very best fruits, adding another dimension to this duo. Blended into a velvety vinaigrette and lavished over a simple summer salad, it shines with a clarity of flavor that’s difficult to beat, no matter how basic it may seem on paper.

The best thing you can do with superlative ingredients is just not mess them up. Seek out only the juiciest, sweetest peaches to prove that point with every invigorating bite.

Wasabi-Peach Dressing

1 Very Ripe, Large Peach
2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
1/2 – 1 Tablespoon Wasabi Paste
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

Salad:

2 – 3 Persian Cucumbers, Thinly Sliced
1 (10-Ounce) Package Cruciferous Crunch Collection (Or About 6 – 7 Cups Shredded Slaw Mix; 1 Cup Shredded Broccoli Stems (Optional), 2 Cups Shredded Brussels Sprouts, 2 Cups Shredded Kale, 2 Cups Purple and/or Green Cabbage)
1 Large Peach, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Cup Chopped, Toasted Pecans

To make the dressing, pit the peach and chop it into rough chunks. Toss it into the blender along with the miso, wasabi, and lemon juice. Blend to combine, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if needed to incorporate everything. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil, allowing it to emulsify into a silky-smooth and thick vinaigrette. Add more wasabi to taste if desired.

For the remainder of the salad, simply toss together all of the vegetables and fruit. Add enough dressing to coat but not drench the mixture (you’ll likely have extra leftover dressing, which keeps well in an airtight container for about a week in the fridge,) top with chopped pecans, and serve right away.

Makes About 4 Servings

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