If it Ain’t Got That Spring, Then it Don’t Mean a Thing

Fleeting warm breezes tease on cool mornings, while sporadic rays of sun manage to break through cloud cover, gently kissing still frozen earth. Tempting, taunting, spring arrives in maddening snippets too short to savor at first. Right when you begin to peel back layers of heavy sweaters and fold up thick comforters, winter rages back in with a vengeance, more brutal than before, crystallizing budding sprouts into frosted popsicles or piling on a fresh coat of ice, depending on your locale. Every time it seems certain that the seasonal shift has taken place, hopes soar high on those fresh winds of change, and crash hard like a kite with no string, back down into the forbidding frozen tundra.

For the first time in recent memory, the calendar date actually seems to align with the weather. Spring resonates through dewy grasses, shouting its arrival from the rooftops of micro gardens across the urban landscape. At least in the bay area, the changing of the guard has officially occurred, and I’m more than ready to reap the benefits.

Spring is all about fresh greens in so many forms. Tender, sweet curlicues branch out from between soft pea leaves, one of the best if underappreciated parts of the whole plant. Though it’s a tough sacrifice to cut these vines down in their youth, before pods appear bearing those toothsome green caviar, the greens themselves are a true delicacy that are worth a splurge. Typically found in Asian cuisine, stir-fried very simply with a splash of wine and a handful of garlic at the most, their full potential has yet to be realized in western culture.

Borrowing inspiration from Spanish tapas, the term “cazuela” simply indicates the terra cotta cooking vessel for the dish, much like you would refer to a tagine. Contents of that pot vary widely across countries, always encompassing some sort of vegetable, though sometimes meat as well. The version from Barcelona Restaurant, based on spinach and chickpeas, inspired my springtime spin-off.

Deceptively rich and complex but full of verdant, simple vegetables, think of it like a warm spread that falls somewhere between hummus, pea puree, and spinach dip. Masses of fresh pea leaves wilt down into a concentrated tangle, amplified by the fruit of the pods themselves with a garlicky, cumin-forward taste that will linger with each bite.

If Mother Nature remains stubbornly resistant to embracing a timely spring conversion in your area, sunflower sprouts or baby spinach might just be able to suffice in a pinch… But the best things remain for those who wait. Ask around at local farmers markets, search ethnic markets for dòu miáo (豆苗,) or head to the backyard and get growing. Though it may sound like great lengths to go for just a handful of tiny sprouts, you’re only 1 – 3 weeks away from the best taste of the season, and it won’t get any fresher than that.

Continue reading “If it Ain’t Got That Spring, Then it Don’t Mean a Thing”

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In Crust We Trust

In a rapidly changing world, there are certain constants we can depend on. Mathematically speaking, we have Euler’s number, Archimedes’ principle, and the Pythagorean theorem, of course, but for someone as nonacademic as myself, there’s little comfort to be found in such jumbles of numbers, no matter how concrete in concept.

Pie, on the other hand, immediately soothes the mental strain of of the scholarly and simple-minded alike. Also reliable is the knowledge that Pi Day will always fall on March 14th (3.14 of course), celebrating the golden ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pie itself, however, should really be honored everyday.

This time, I propose we all cozy up to an everyday sort of pie. Mini pies, actually, easy to prepare, perfect quick snacks or last-minute desserts, they can even be prepared in advance, frozen, and thawed on demand. Warm out of the oven or reheated after a quick blast in the toaster oven, tender chunks of apple mingle with a soft, almost gooey peanut butter filling, infused with the warmth of cinnamon and lavished with a sweet crumb topping.

The combination is nothing earth-shaking, nor should it be. It’s a universally satisfying combination that’s stood the test of time, and will reliably treat you to a taste of nostalgic comfort in every mini morsel.

Yield: Makes 24 Mini Pies

Mini Peanut Butter Apple Pies

Mini Peanut Butter Apple Pies
Enjoy a tiny little bite of nostalgia with these cute mini pies! Nutty, fruity, and full of comforting cinnamon spice, they're best eaten warm.

Ingredients

Crust:

Peanut Butter-Apple Filling:

  • 1/2 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Medium Granny Smith Apples, Peeled, Cored, and Chopped (About 3 Cups)

Crumb Topping:

  • 3 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 3 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted

To Serve:

  • Confectioner's Sugar (Optional)

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease 2 dozen mini muffin tins.

Roll out your prepared pie dough to about 1/8th of an inch in thickness and use a round cookie cutter, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, to cut out the crust pieces. In a pinch, the top of a drinking glass could work as well. Gather scraps, re-roll, and cut again as needed.

Ease the pieces into the greased pans, pressing them to fill the bottoms and up the sides as evenly as possible. There will likely be some overlap, but try to smooth out the edges to keep things neat and consistent.

Place the unbaked crusts in the fridge to chill while you turn your attention to the filling.

In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, brown sugar, yogurt, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla until smooth. Toss in the chopped apples and stir to incorporate, covering the fruit thoroughly with the peanut butter mixture. Set aside.

For the crumb topping, simply combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and use a fork to combine. Continue stirring until the mixture is coarse, chunky, but cohesive.

To assemble, fill the chilled pie shells with the peanut butter and apple mixture and top each with about a teaspoon of the crumb topping.

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until the crusts and crumb are golden brown. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the pans and serving.

If desired, sprinkle confectioners sugar over the top very lightly just before enjoying.

Notes

To save these for a rainy day, let them cool completely before storing them in an airtight container, seperated by layers of parchment or waxed paper. Stash in the freezer for up to 4 months, or in the fridge for up to a week.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

24

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 72 Total Fat: 4g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 3mg Sodium: 36mg Carbohydrates: 9g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 6g Protein: 2g

Look Out for Lemons

Heads up!

If you’re not paying attention, there’s a real danger of being pummeled by falling fruit while walking the city streets of Berkeley. Woven in among the cozy cafes and compact apartment buildings, fruit trees flourish, exploding with fragrant citrus fruits that rain down like hail on the unsuspecting passersby below. Streets are littered with lemons, oranges, and other unidentified flaxen orbs, as if a fruit cart had overturned on its way to market. Some shatter upon impact, hemorrhaging precious sweet nectar in a macabre spray, but many others remain perfectly intact, perfectly viable for salvage.

Like any other compassionate cook, I’ve taken it upon myself to rescue any forlorn fruit. Given the conditions, you could understand why my fridge is overflowing with citrus, particularly Meyer lemons, which land in my direct path on the way to the bus.

Best practices for managing the surplus is expeditious disassembly, before they have time to spoil. Zest and juice all fruits, freezing liquids in ice cube trays and solids in little baggies. I’m not much for canning, but I like to think of my freezer as an icy pantry, extending the life of these abundant sweet and sour gems for later days.

Thrifty and measured as I am, don’t think for a minute that some of this gracious surfeit hasn’t been used for more immediate gratification.

Crisp, lightly sweetened shortbread cookies come to life with the bright acidity of fresh lemons, which also plays off the natural bitter edge of raw cacao nibs. Though undeniably buttery, their richness comes entirely from olive oil, adding a complementary grassy, peppery undertone. Irresistibly adorable spoon molds make them the ideal shape for dunking, but a regular old round cake pan will do the trick for simple, standard wedges.

Even if the urban landscape isn’t quite so generous in your locale, now is the time to enjoy citrus of all shapes and sizes, so stock up!

Yield: 16 - 18 Cookies

Lemon-Cacao Crunch Shortbread Cookies

Lemon-Cacao Crunch Shortbread Cookies
Crisp, lightly sweetened shortbread cookies come to life with the bright acidity of fresh lemons, which also plays of the natural bitter edge of raw cacao nibs. Though undeniably buttery, their richness comes entirely from olive oil, adding a complementary grassy, peppery undertone.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Confectioner's Sugar
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Cacao Nibs
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 and set out (but do not grease) a spoon-shaped baking tray or a 9-inch round springform pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, and the salt. Add in the cacao nibs and toss to coat with the dry ingredients.
  3. Separately, mix the oil, lemon juice, and zest together before pouring the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Stir well to combine; you may need to use your hands, as it's a very thick, stiff dough.
  4. If using spoon molds, fill each indentation about 3/4 of the way to the top, pressing firmly to make sure there are no gaps. For a springform pan, gather the dough into one large ball and press it flat and even across the bottom. Score into thin wedges with a sharp knife.
  5. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
  6. For cookies baked in a springform pan, they may need to be re-scored at this point and baked for another 5 minutes, depending on spread and color.
  7. Let cool completely in the pans.

Notes

Both unbaked dough and finished cookies keep well in the freezer. Baked cookies keep for 2 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

18

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 135 Total Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 31mg Carbohydrates: 13g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 3g Protein: 2g

Unholy Guacamole

Don’t judge a book by its cover, a person by their clothing, or a dip by its color. The comparison is inevitable so I’ll go ahead and say it: The following recipe, no matter how brilliantly described or lovingly plated, will always and forever look like a glorious mountain of cow plop, steaming away on a hot summer’s afternoon.

Just avert your eyes and dig in. The smoky, spicy, earthy flavor of cocoa mole awaits your taste buds if you can suspend disbelief. Presenting a bold alternative to the ubiquitous green guacamole filling bowls across the country for Super Bowl festivities, it won’t score any points for presentation, but may just win the snacking game.

Yield: 2 Cups

GuacaMole

GuacaMole
When guacamole meets mole, the results may not be pretty, but the flavor is out of this word. This creamy, smoky, spicy, and earthy mashup will tempt you to double (or triple) dip.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1 Teaspoon Chipotle Powder
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground White pepper
  • 2 Avocados
  • 2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
  • 1 Small Heirloom or Medium Roma Tomato, Chopped
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 2 Tbsp Fresh Cilantro, Minced
  • 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced

Instructions

  1. Combine the cocoa, spices, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well.
  2. Pit, dice and scoop the avocado flesh out, adding it to the bowl along with the lime juice. Very roughly mash with a fork, incorporating all of the dry ingredients but keeping the texture rather chunky.
  3. Mix in the tomato, garlic, cilantro, and scallions last, stirring until the vegetables and herbs are equally distributed throughout the dip.
  4. Serve with chips or cut vegetable crudites.

Notes

Enjoy right away or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1/4 cup

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 68 Total Fat: 6g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 71mg Carbohydrates: 5g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 0g Protein: 1g

New Year’s Ball Drop

Wait, where do you think you’re going? The party isn’t over yet! Just when you thought it was safe to crawl back home in a holiday-induced stupor, ready to hibernate for the remainder of winter, New Year’s looms large on the horizon with another round of festive demands. Still recovering from Christmas, and maybe even Hanukkah at that, it can be a challenge to summon enough enthusiasm for the final day of the year. It typically ends in an anticlimactic countdown at midnight and much more booze than food; never a good omen for the start of any resolution.

No matter how worn and weary from this season of relentless merriment, we can still do better. Why just watch the ball drop on TV when you can fortify yourself with balls of a more savory sort?

It’s been many years, if not decades since I last encountered these classic appetizers, yet they come back to me in flashbulb memories of parties past. Was it my mom in the kitchen, rolling up mounds of greens and cheese by the dozen, or someone else entirely? Though the details elude me, I do remember being swayed by their robust garlic flavor, even in my early days of hating vegetables.

Look, I know it’s getting late and we could all use a break, but this last request is an easy one! Let your food processor do the heavy lifting, throw the whole lot in the oven, and finish on a strong note. 2018 has been full of crazy twists and turns, but I can promise you that the conclusion will ultimately be gratifying when these bite-sized balls drop, even if you make it an early night.

Yield: Makes 24 - 30 Balls

Garlicky Spinach Balls

Garlicky Spinach Balls
Robust garlic flavor shines throughout each bite of these crowd-pleasing appetizers.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 6 Slices (About 7.5 Ounces Total) Sandwich Bread, Slightly Stale or Lightly Toasted
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts
  • 1/3 Cup Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 Head Roasted Garlic
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 2 Cups (About 10 Ounces) Frozen Spinach, Thawed and Drained
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley
  • 1/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree or Leftover Mashed Potatoes
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet.
  2. Roughly tear the bread into smaller pieces and place them in your food processor, along with the pine nuts. Pulse until broken down into a coarse meal. Add in all of the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine, chopping the greens especially well but leaving the mixture with a bit of texture. You don’t want a perfectly smooth puree like baby food here.
  3. Scoop out a heaping tablespoon for each portion and use lightly moistened hands to roll them into round balls. Place on your prepared sheet and bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until dark green in color and firm to the touch. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving; enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

30

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 63 Total Fat: 3g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 125mg Carbohydrates: 7g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 1g Protein: 3g

Do the Monster Munch

There’s certainly no shortage of sweet treats this time of year. Mountains of glittering, foil-wrapped candies adorn office desks and kitchen counters alike, tempting passersby to indulge at every turn. Though the abundance of goodies excites my sweet tooth, the wide range of offerings all too often prove disappointing to my taste buds; throat-searing sugary centers enrobed in waxy chocolate coatings are more common than not, each morsel putting on a festive facade to mask its flat flavors. Time and again, each new crop of bewitching confections fails to satisfy. Stop the madness, I say! Step away from the shiny packages and seek solace in a far more satisfying popcorn snack experience.

Matcha Munchies Green Tea Popcorn Snack

Popcorn, the crisp, fluffy kernels that boast an impressive serving of fiber in each handful are the savior of peckish healthy eaters everywhere. This workhorse snack provides the perfect blank canvas for a Halloween treat that’s a far lesser evil than those frightful mass-produced candies.

Tinted a monstrous shade of green thanks to the bold addition of green tea powder, each bite of this popcorn snack recipe rings with the complex interplay of sweet and bitter tastes, each in perfect harmony. Crunchy clusters of pumpkin seeds round out the mix with a subtly nutty flavor. Drizzling dark chocolate over the top really gilds the lily, but for an event as flamboyant as Halloween, it seems appropriate to pull out all the stops.

Matcha Munchies Green Tea Popcorn Snack

Though little trick-or-treaters may not appreciate this more mature, sugar-coated delight, that only means there’s more of this delicious popcorn snack to go around for the rest of us. It may appear to yield an intimidating amount of glorious green kernels, but don’t you dream of reducing the recipe. Not even the most sour ghost or ghoul could resist its wicked charm.

Yield: Makes About 7 Cups; 6 – 8 Servings

Matcha Monster Munch

Matcha Monster Munch
Tinted a monstrous shade of green thanks to the bold addition of green tea powder, each bite of this popcorn snack recipe rings with the complex interplay of sweet and bitter tastes, each in perfect harmony. Crunchy clusters of pumpkin seeds round out the mix with a subtly nutty flavor. Drizzling dark chocolate over the top really gilds the lily, but for an event as flamboyant as Halloween, it seems appropriate to pull out all the stops.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 6 Cups Freshly Popped Popcorn
  • 1 Cup Pepitas
  • 3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoons Matcha Powder
  • 1/4 Cup Brown Rice Syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil, Melted
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 4 Ounces (About 3/4 Cup Chopped) Bittersweet Chocolate, Melted

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and lightly grease a jelly roll pan or any rimmed baking sheet. Combine the popped corn and pumpkin seeds in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. In medium saucepan with high sides, combine the sugar, matcha, rice syrup, melted butter or coconut oil, and salt. Whisk vigorously to break up any small clumps of matcha before proceeding. They can be tricky to disperse, especially in hot liquids, so don’t be afraid to really beat the mixture up while you have the chance. Set the pan on the stove over medium heat.
  3. Periodically stir as the mixture heats up, until the sugar has dissolved. Once it reaches a full boil, stop stirring and allow it to cook at a lively bubble for 5 minutes. Don’t rush it!
  4. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Working quickly but carefully, pour the hot sugar syrup over your bowl of popped corn and gently stir to coat. Transfer the entire thing over to your prepared baking pan, spreading it out into an even a layer as possible, and move it into your oven. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for 1 hour.
  5. Let cool completely before drizzling all over with melted chocolate. Allow the chocolate to fully set before breaking the popcorn into large clusters. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for 3 – 4 days, maximum.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 333 Total Fat: 19g Saturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 1g Unsaturated Fat: 9g Cholesterol: 4mg Sodium: 135mg Carbohydrates: 36g Fiber: 4g Sugar: 23g Protein: 7g
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.