BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Silent Sunday: Gilroy Garlic Festival

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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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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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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

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A-Maize-Ing

Put down the pumpkin spice latte. Step away from the Halloween decorations. Summer isn’t over yet, for crying out loud! The kids may be back in school, but the days are still bright and warm, full of the very same glorious produce we were enjoying mere days ago. Why rush into the next season while there’s still so much to enjoy in this one?

Case in point: fresh corn. There’s simply nothing else like it, and it can never compare when purchased off-peak. Now is the time to get your fill or hold your peace for another year. That means an ear of corn a day by my estimate, if not more. I simply can’t get enough of the stuff, crisp and sweet, straight off the cob with a light pinch of salt.

Fresh corn doesn’t stick around long though; what remains after the height of the season is but a shadow of its former glory. Watery, starchy, a waste of valuable stomach real estate, corn eaten any other time of year guarantees disappointment. As threats of the approaching seasonal shift grow louder, it’s simply not enough to enjoy a few bites a day. To really get a proper fix that will hold you for a full year, you can’t hold back.

That’s why my current favorite corn preparation not only involves tossing crisp kernels with supple strands of homemade pasta, but incorporates the very essence of corn right into the noodles themselves. That’s right; fresh corn pasta.

No more difficult to fabricate than any other dough, this unique formula incorporates both whole corn and cornmeal along with the standard wheat flour base, yielding a satisfying, toothsome structure with a genuinely flavorful soul. No one could ever accuse this noodle of being bland, even when eaten straight out the boiling water.

The best way to do justice to such a simple, pure product is to leave it alone. In essence: don’t screw up a good thing. Toss the cooked noodles with good olive oil or just the barest veil of pesto, along with a handful of fresh seasonal vegetables, and let it do the rest of the work. Such unique noodles are special enough to speak for themselves, much like superlative fresh corn does in the first place.

Anyone else out there still clinging to summer, or simply feel that the autumnal push is just a bit too aggressive? Pull up a chair and have a bowl of pasta with me. You’ll forget all about that nonsense after one bite.

Fresh Corn Pasta

1/2 Cup Corn Kernels, Canned and Drained, or Frozen and Thawed
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal

To Serve:

Pesto
Fresh Corn Kernels
Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

To make the pasta, place the corn kernels, aquafaba, oil, and salt in your food processor. Puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container as needed, until completely smooth. Add in the flour and cornmeal and pulse to incorporate. It shouldn’t take long before the mixture turns into a cohesive dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, press it into a ball, and cover it loosely with a clean towel. Let rest for 10 minutes to allow the gluten to relax before proceeding.

Divide dough in half, covering one of the portions once more with the towel. Focusing your attention on the other half, knead it lightly until smooth and press it into the rough shape of a rectangle. Break out the rolling pin and roll it out to about 1/8th – 1/16th of an inch in thickness.

Lightly flour the entire length before rolling it loosely and gently to make a short scroll to can be cut in one stroke. Use a very sharp knife to slice the noodles to your desired thickness; about 1/4-inch for fettuccine or 1/8-inch for linguine. Toss the noodles with additional flour to keep the strands separate.

Hang the fresh pasta on drying rack (in a pinch, I’ve used metal coat hangers) for at least two hours to dry. Repeat with remaining half of the dough.

If preparing the pasta well advance, allow it to dry completely, about 8 – 10 hours depending on the humidity in your kitchen, before storing it an airtight container or zip top plastic bag.

To cook, bring approximately 4 quarts water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for just 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until firm but tender. Drain but do not rinse.

Immediately toss with pesto and fresh vegetables and enjoy!

Makes 2 – 4 Servings (Paired with a Salad or Soup to Make a Meal)

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