BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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More Than a Hill of Beans

Sunshine floods the open field with warmth, kissing every blade of grass as it rises to greet the day. Work and school are but a passing thought, quickly swept away by the gentle breeze. It’s summertime, and the day is primed for a picnic. Spread out a blanket, open up the carefully packed basket, and unveil the savory spread crafted to power a full day of play. Everything is perfect… Until the bean salad hits the bench.

Swampy, limp green beans slither throughout the miasma, already looking well past their prime. Watery dressy hemorrhages outward, pooling at the bottom of the bowl in a murky sludge. Fresh vegetables are scant, if at all discernible, limited to stringy chunks of celery at best. Though perpetually invited to these outdoor excursions for its stability at any temperature, the average bean salad is a terrible, ungracious guest. Mere blandness would be a blessing in most cases, but the list of culinary crimes committed to this dish could fill a novel. After so many years of innovation in food, why does it still have to be this way?

It’s high time we take a stand to build a better bean salad. Traditionalist and adventurous eaters alike can benefit from the very same sturdy base, constructing unique legume dishes to suit every occasion. Select each ingredient with intention rather than just slapping together the standard formula, and you’ll never be disappointed by the result. Infuse real flavor into the mix each step of the way for the very best side dish your summer cookouts, barbecues, and road trips have ever seen.

Like any strong master plan, the following suggestions are just that; a guide, not a formula recipe, meant to inspire your own bean salad adventures. Mix and match your favorites, incorporate new ideas, color outside the lines! My only golden rule? No canned green beans. Quite frankly, they’re an insult to vegetable preservation and have no place in the modern grocery market.

In case you’re still feeling stuck in the same old bean salad rut, here are some of my greatest hits…

Spicy Southwestern: Black beans, pinto beans, cilantro, red onion, bell peppers, lime juice, avocado oil, chipotle pepper, grilled corn kernels, avocado

Mideast Feast: Chickpeas, lentils, parsley, shallots, cucumbers, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, black pepper, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, crumbled vegan feta

Asian Persuasion: Edamame, lima beans, cannellini beans, scallions, rice vinegar, sesame oil, shredded carrots, crushed red pepper flakes, diced mango, sliced almonds

Don’t let a bad bean salad ruin your summer celebration! It’s just as easy to throw together a bright, bold, and refreshing blend fit for a real party. Start mixing it up and tell me, what’s your favorite blend?

Basic Bean Salad Blueprint

3 (15-Ounce) Cans Beans, Rinsed and Drained or 4 1/2 Cups Total Cooked Beans (Cannellini Beans, Chickpeas, Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Pinto Beans, Lima Beans, Black-Eyed Peas, Lentils, and/or Shelled Edamame)
1 Cup Loosely Packed Fresh Herbs, Finely Chopped (Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Mint, and/or Basil)
1/2 Cup Alliums, Finely Chopped or Thinly Sliced (Red Onion, Sweet Vidalia Onion, Shallots, Scallions, or Leeks)
1 Cup Crisp Vegetables, Finely Chopped (Celery, Shredded Carrots, Cucumbers and/or Bell Peppers)

1/3 Cup Vinegar or Citrus Juice (Red Wine Vinegar, Apple Cider Vinegar, Rice Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Lime Juice or Orange Juice)
1/4 Cup Oil (Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, Rice Bran Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Sesame Oil, or Peanut Oil)
3/4 – 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Pepper (Ground Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Chipotle Pepper, or Crushed Red Pepper Flakes)

Bonus, Optional Mix-Ins (Avocado, Halved Cherry Tomatoes, Pitted Olives, Corn Kernels, Chopped Walnuts, Sliced Almonds, Diced Mango, Shredded or Crumbled Vegan Cheese… Get Creative!)

Preparation couldn’t be simpler: Once you’ve selected your star players, toss together the beans, herbs, alliums, and crisp vegetables in a large bowl. Separately, whisk together the vinegar or citrus, oil, salt, and pepper. Pour the dressing over the goods and toss to coat. Mix in as many bonus ingredients as your heart desires. Enjoy right away or stash in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. Try it both chilled and at room temperature!

The finished bean salad should keep for 2 – 4 days if kept refrigerated, depending on the selected components.

Makes 4 – 8 Servings (4 as an Entree, 8 as a Side)

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Sunshine on a Cloudy Debate

The backlash was so swift and violent, it surprised me, even after years of studiously avoiding any and all comment sections. Immediately, cries of injustice came from the purists; lectures spouted from the health-fanatics; doubts, bordering on outright disgust, resounded among picky eaters the world over.

Risotto made from sunflower seeds? What sort of heresy was this? How could you even call it such a thing, lacking grains entirely, traditional or alternative, and smacking of trendy food revelry? Besides, think of the nutrition!

It wasn’t until I read these complaints, numerous and increasingly frenzied, did I stop to consider how controversial the concept may be. We’ve seen endless twists on classic dishes at this point, spinning some brittle concepts well beyond their breaking point and still happily eating the pieces afterwards. Was this recipe really so malicious?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was simply enchanted. The point that these curmudgeonly commenters missed was that the motive was always to put flavor first. Sunflower seeds have been the backbone of many delicious concoctions, and it’s incredible to see their texture wholly transformed by merely cooking, soaking, or toasting them, to say nothing of the corresponding alchemy of taste. Slowly simmered with aromatics, they soften to a toothsome bite, not quite like rice, granted, but something else genuinely worthy of savoring.

Just the thought of featuring sunflower seeds, an often undervalued bit player, brightened my day, informing my inspiration for the completed meal to come. Naturally sweet, gently earthy carrot juice and turmeric lend a cheerful golden hue, blending with a small measure of the seeds to yield its own creamy base, no dairy need apply. Spring produce still holds sway over my mind and appetite right now, but with summer vegetables already on their way, I’m now plotting the next plate with crisp steamed green beans, halved cherry tomatoes, and perhaps grilled corn kernels instead. It really doesn’t take much to brighten anyone’s day with a comforting bowlful of this avant-garde risotto. Just don’t spoil it by listening to the haters.

Sunshine Risotto

1 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Small Shallots, Finely Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Cups Raw Sunflower Seeds
Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
2 Cups 100% Carrot Juice
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock
1/4 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
Salt, to Taste
1/2 Cup Fresh or Frozen Peas, Thawed
Finely Chopped Chives
1/2 Pound Asparagus, Trimmed, (Halved if Particularly Thick) and Blanched

Place the olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. When it begins to shimmer, add in the shallots and saute until translucent. Introduce the garlic next, stirring well and cooking until lightly golden and highly aromatic. Toss in the sunflower seeds, stir gently but consistently for about 5 minutes before following with the lemon zest and juice, carrot juice, and vegetable stock. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 35 – 45 minutes. The seeds should be tender but still toothsome; al dente, if you will.

Transfer 1/2 cup of the seed mixture to your blender along with the coconut milk, nutritional yeast, miso paste, pepper, and turmeric. Thoroughly puree to achieve a silky, golden custard. Fold this cream back into the main mixture, cook on low for just 2 – 4 minutes longer until piping hot and the puree has slightly thickened to luxuriously coat the whole seeds.

Add salt to taste, if needed. Ladle onto plates, top with peas and chives, and serve with asparagus alongside.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings (2 as an Entree, 4 as a Side)

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Simmer Down Now

Sweet dreams beget savory cravings. Balancing out long days of baking that spill over into visions of sweets well into my waking hours, the first thing on my mind in the morning is anything but another sugary meal. Spice, zest, acidity; anything to wake up my taste buds without another saccharine treat. Syrup-drenched pancakes still beckon, as does that comforting crunch of frosted cold cereal flakes, but an innate yearning for bolder seasoning pushes me further into the pantry for alternative options.

Bleary-eyed and barely conscious, finding any shortcut for satisfying that gnawing hunger is a merciful windfall. I’m certainly not above lazily throwing a slice of bread under the broiler and calling it a day, but when it takes only a few minutes longer to whip up a truly satisfying, savory meal, why not make something a bit more special? Perusing the usual pantry options after one particularly brutal wake up call, finding a packet of taco simmer sauce was like uncovering the holy grail right in your own backyard.

Recently released by Simply Organic, their ingenious Southwest Taco Simmer Sauce promises warm notes of chili peppers, tangy tomato, rich cumin, and savory oregano, and it doesn’t disappoint. Claiming that it’s best with beef and positioned merely as a taco night aid struck me as rather shortsighted, though. Maybe it was the sleep-deprived delirium that inspired my unconventional #OrganicMoments, but all I could think about was a fresh, spicy take on French Toast.

Thickly sliced country bread takes a dip in a rich bath of coconut milk, infused with this delicately nuanced blend, coming together almost instantly. A crisp sear on the outside locks in a rich, savory custard interior, a perfectly proportional contrast to delight the taste buds. No sugar need apply for this bold new breakfast option. Best of all, such a unique palate of flavors means that it needn’t be confined to the AM hours; ideal for brunch or dinner as well, the concept easily transcends traditional mealtime boundaries.

Toppings are hardly necessary when you start with such a brilliant base, but it’s impossible to resist a few generous slices of luscious avocado, at the very least. Pepitas add a hearty crunch, and the brightness of simple pico de gallo perfects the meal for me, but the sky is truly the limit. Dream up your own #OrganicMoments with a wide range of savory finishes, such as vegan cheese or sour cream, sliced tomatoes, grilled corn, shredded cabbage, or black beans. On the other hand, simply going au naturel and digging right in wouldn’t disappoint.

This post was made possible thanks to sponsorship by Simply Organic.

Savory Tex-Mex French Toast

3/4 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Packet Simply Organic Southwest Taco Simmer Sauce
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
4 – 6 (1-Inch Thick) Slices Hearty Country Bread

To Serve:

Sliced Avocado
Pico de Gallo
Toasted Pepitas

In a large, shallow dish, whisk together the coconut milk, simmer sauce, arrowroot, and nutritional yeast. Once smooth, dip the first two slices of bread into the mixture, allowing the pieces to soak for about a minute before flipping them over to the opposite side. You want to saturate the slices without having them disintegrate into the liquid.

Meanwhile, begin heating a large skillet over medium heat. Use nonstick or lightly grease any other material. Once hot, gently place the saturated bread onto the sizzling surface, and let cook, undisturbed, for 3 – 4 minutes. Peek to check on the underside; if it’s nicely golden-brown, go ahead and give it a flip. Cook for another 3 – 4 minutes on the opposite side.

Transfer to a serving plate and top with as many of the suggested garnishes as desired. Repeat with the remaining bread, and enjoy!

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

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Short and Sweet

Good things come in small packages. Navigating the world as a vertically challenged person, this particular truism is one that I hold close to heart. Height, or lack thereof, should never be viewed as an obstacle, but rather celebrated for all the unique benefits it provides. Leg room is never an issue when flying, even on a cut-rate coach ticket, for example, and it’s effortless to slip in (or out) of a crowd. I’d like to think that a smaller size means that all the good things inside are merely condensed and intensified to fit, amplified into a more pure form. Although that can’t be said for all people, that’s certainly the case for strawberry shortcake.

Modern interpretations of this sweet biscuit sandwich stretch the definition, often towering higher than a modest layer cake, but at its core, the concept remains short and sweet. Today, I’m here to push the boundaries further, albeit in the opposite direction. Flattening out the assembly into one thin plank, this confectionery rendition measures less than a centimeter tall, dazzling with flavor rather than lofty aspirations.

Encased in darkly caramelized toffee, crispy quinoa stands in for cake or biscuits, adding just the right cereal note to support the star players. Strawberries, dried and sliced, are both beautiful and flavorful; removing the excess water creates a far sweeter treat than fresh fruit, while simultaneously extending their shelf life to suit any season. Whipped cream is out of the picture, handily replaced by a luscious drizzle of white chocolate instead.

Although shortness often carried negative associations, like being short-tempered or getting short shrift, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t celebrate the more compact things (and people) among us. There’s no need to drone on and turn this into a long post; let’s keep it short and sweet, starting with a morsel of strawberry shortcake toffee, shall we?

Strawberry Shortcake Toffee

1/2 Ounce Freeze-Dried Strawberries, Divided
1/3 Cup Crispy Quinoa Cereal or Crispy Rice Cereal
3/4 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Demerara or Turbinado Sugar
1 Tablespoon 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

3 Ounces (1/2 Cup Chips or Finely Chopped Pieces) Vegan White Chocolate, Melted

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, lightly grease, and sprinkle half of the freeze-dried strawberries along with all of the crispy cereal over the bottom, as evenly as possible. Set aside.

Grind the remaining dried strawberries down to a fine powder in a coffee or spice grinder. Combine it with the vegan butter, sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar, and then keep your spatula out of the mixture until the very end. Instead, swirl the pan gently to mix the contents, which will help prevent premature crystal formation.

Allow the margarine to melt and sugar to dissolve before clipping a thermometer to the side of the pan. You’ll want to bring the sugar to a steady boil, until it turns a deep amber brown color and reaches 300 degrees, which is also known as the “hard crack stage” of candy making.

Turn off the heat, carefully stir in the vanilla as it may sputter angrily, and immediately pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Try to pour it evenly over the goodies within so as not to displace the goodies at the bottom.

Let cool completely before snapping into more manageable pieces. Drizzle with melted white chocolate, and let set once more before handling. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

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Fit for a Fiesta

Funny how holidays tend to sneak up on a person, even when the date is baked into the name itself. Cinco de Mayo is largely an excuse for day drinking here in the states, but it would truly be a shame to let it pass without indulging in a bit of edible hedonism as well. Someone who was more prepared, or at least aware of the rapidly advancing calendar, might have shared something suitable with enough time to plan, prepare, and lock down a party game plan before the actual date.

I am not that person.

However, I don’t need to be, and neither do you! Not only are these spicy appetizers compulsively munchable, they’re effortless to throw together at the drop of a sombrero. Modeled after meatballs but inspired by tacos, each bite-sized morsel turns the classically meaty, spicy, typically messy dish into dainty finger food. No more crumbly taco shells dumping their contents all over your white pants; crushing tortillas into a crunchy coating allows them to remain perfectly crisp, yet intact and firmly adhered from plate to palate.

Clear your schedule, call up all your friends, and start crushing ice for a boatload of frozen margaritas; there’s a party brewing as soon as you preheat the oven.

Taco Bites

1 12-Ounce Package Vegan Beef Crumbles or Crumbled Tempeh
1/2 Cup Black Beans, Roughly Mashed or Refried Pinto Beans
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 Cup Yellow Cornmeal
1 1/2 Teaspoons Chili Powder
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/3 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Finely Crushed Tortilla Chips

Salsa, to Serve

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Place your meatless crumbles of choice in the food processor, along with the beans, tomato paste, garlic, cornmeal, chili powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Pulse briefly to combine, but be careful not to over-blend. You want to break down the crumbles a bit but still leave a lot of texture here. Introduce the aquafaba, cilantro, and salt next, pulsing once more to incorporate. Blend just until you achieve a cohesive, meaty dough.

Scoop out balls the size of walnuts and roll them in the crushed tortilla chips, completely coating the exteriors. Place each ball on your prepared baking sheet and repeat the process until you’ve used up all of the central mixture.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the balls are firm and evenly browned. Serve hot, alongside your favorite salsa and an icy cold beverage.

Makes About 20 Bites

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Coffee Flour Brew Haha

Think outside the cup. For every scalding-hot carafe of coffee, how often have you stopped to consider what didn’t make it into that brew? Precious as they are, those beans are but a small part of a bigger plant, celebrated yet simultaneously, curiously ignored. Nutritious, perfect viable fruit is stripped away from these kernels, left to rot in the fields without a second thought. Considering just how much coffee the average office drone will down in a given day, you can only imagine the staggering amount of food going to waste.

Slowly but surely, a steady buzz is growing around turning this by-product into a worthy crop in its own right. Dried and milled, the resulting coffee flour contains only as much caffeine as chocolate (which is negligible at most), but can boast a much more measured energy boost in the form of abundant protein and fiber. Although it’s been an esoteric ingredient on the fringes of mainstream food ways, considering the fact that it’s now available at Trader Joe’s, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of it from here on out.

Preserving personal health and the environment at large are both admirable goals, clearly within the cross hairs for those singing the praises of this power flour. Whether or not they’re attainable depends entirely upon more hedonistic perspectives: Taste. Leftover husks and skins don’t sound particularly delicious, and the flavor is one you might not expect based on the label. Fruity, floral, with notes of lemon and (of course) cherries, the dark brown powder tastes nothing like a cup of mud. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Just a thing to consider?

If you ask me, that unique essence just proves how much more the coffee cherry has to offer. Functioning much like cocoa powder in baked goods, it can generally take the place of 30 – 40% of the standard all-purpose flour in a given recipe, or blended into smoothies for a whole new sweet sensation.

Of course, given the comparison to cocoa, I couldn’t resist trying it first in a batch of fudgy, gluten-free brownies.

Held together by the magic of aquafaba and crowned by a perfect crackled crust, these are pretty much my ideal cookie bars. The impulse to add a bit of coffee essence was too strong to deny, but you could just as happily omit the instant coffee powder if you’re not a natural coffee fanatic. Accenting with a pinch of cinnamon, or playing up the subtle citrus notes of the flour with a hint of orange zest, would be equally delightful.

Coffee Flour Brownies

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Aquafaba
3/4 Cup (4.5 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Coffee Flour
1/2 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square pan.

Place the vegan butter, sugar, aquafaba, and 1/4 cup of the chocolate chips in a small saucepan over low heat. Gently warm, stirring constantly, until the chocolate and butter have melted, and the sugar has dissolved. It should be smooth and silky. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let cool for 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the coffee flour, cocoa powder, instant coffee (if using), salt, baking powder, chopped pecans, and remaining chocolate chips. Toss to combine and thoroughly coat the mix-ins with flour, to prevent them from sinking to the bottom.

Add the liquid chocolate mixture into the bowl of dry goods, mixing with a wide spatula to combine. You needn’t worry about over-mixing here, since it’s completely gluten-free! Make sure there are no pockets of flour or lumps hiding within the batter before transferring it to your prepared pan. Smooth down the top so it’s one even layer.

Bake for 16 – 20 minutes, until the top is dry and shiny. A toothpick inserted into the center should pull out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it; you don’t want it completely clean, or the brownies will end up being dry. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 12 – 16 Brownies

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Mary Me

How one of the most beloved brunch pairings ever became associated with a murderous ex-queen of England is beyond me. Countless were condemned to an early death under the rule of Queen Mary I, leaving her with few friends to raise a glass with. Complicating matters is the fact that the tomato and vodka mixer didn’t appear anywhere in history until the 1930s when vodka began to flow from Russia following the second world war, many centuries after her own demise. Numerous early mixologists claim to have invented the original cocktail, and just as many stories behind the gruesome name exist- None particularly compelling. Attempts at uncovering the truth end up looking about as murky and opaque as the drink itself.

No one needs help understanding the modern Bloody Mary, on the other hand. Instantly recognizable and ubiquitous across the globe, you can rest assured that if there are spirits on the menu, the bartender can undoubtedly fix you the bold red brew. Like pizza and sex, even the bad ones are pretty good.

That all said, there’s no reason to settle for sufficiency or fall into a boring routine. Though incredible simple in composition, each separate component can be tweaked to yield a brave new blend.

Vegetable Juice: Tomato will always reign supreme and for good reason. Naturally balanced with the delicate nuances of savory, salty, sweet, and sour, it’s tough to beat such a carefully calibrated blend. Tradition shouldn’t put a damper on your creativity though; there’s plenty of room for a fresh perspective, and this foundation ingredient is where you’ll make the biggest impact. Shake things up, with or without a proper cocktail shaker, by looking farther afield. Either solo or in concert with pure tomato juice, consider carrot, celery, tomatillo, or beet.

Alcohol: While generally mild spirits that play well with others are your best bets here, more robust beverages can become a more prominent piece of the puzzle, defining the character of the drink. Vodka or sake are your best bets for simplicity, and tequila or gin can provide a refreshing change of pace. You could even turn it into more of a spritzer or cooler with champagne or dry white wine. For a virgin drink, use still or sparkling water.

Acid: Bright, astringent notes are essential for lightening the overall mix, delivered via citrus or vinegar. Lemon juice, lime juice, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic vinegar are all excellent options.

Umami Sauce: For lack of a better title, this is your secret weapon; the component that most people will overlook but miss sorely if it doesn’t make the final cut. Vegan Worcestershire, store-bought or homemade, is the default option, but you should definitely consider soy sauce, coconut aminos, or vegemite/marmite for the job, too.

Spice: Heat preferences are highly subjective so dial it up or down according to taste, taking the potency of your selection into account. Add a touch of warmth or a blazing inferno with horseradish, Tabasco sauce, sriracha, wasabi paste, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, or paprika.

Salt: Salt is salt, right? Not so fast. Seasoned salt can jazz things up, and celery salt could lend an extra vegetal zest. Smoked salt is also fabulous for adding another layer of depth and meaty aroma.

Garnishes: If it fits in or on a glass, it’s a valid garnish option. The sky is truly the limit (just take a cursory look through Google Images if you think that’s an exaggeration) but classic, mostly highly recommended options include: coarse salt rim, celery stalks, pickled okra, jalapeno, or green beans, lemon wedge, cucumber spears, asparagus stalks, olives, or sliced radishes.

With these suggestions in mind, select your favorites and follow the Basic Bloody Mary Blueprint:

1/2 Cup Vegetable Juice
1/4 Cup Alcohol
2 Teaspoons Acid
1/2 Teaspoon Umami Sauce
1/8 – 1/2 Teaspoon Spice
Pinch Salt
Pinch Ground Black Pepper
Ice (Optional)
Garnishes (Optional)

Mix everything up, adjusting individual components to taste. Serve over ice (or don’t) and garnish as desired (or don’t.) You really can’t mess this one up, I promise.

Makes 1 Drink

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