BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts

In one of many ill-conceived business ideas, I briefly considered setting up shop selling coconut shell bowls. The obsession was short but intense, yielding many colorful vessels for my own enjoyment, but few to share with the general public. Alas, of all those tropical fruits cracked open and eviscerated, not a single one actually turned a profit. Anyone with an ounce of money sense could have seen that coming, considering the sheer amount of time and labor necessary for each individual piece. It turns out that even the most beautiful coconut shell really isn’t worth more than $3 an hour, if you’re being particularly generous.

The venture wasn’t a total loss though. Processing through so many coconuts yielded tons of fresh coconut water, coconut shreds, coconut milk, coconut butter, and coconut pulp to enjoy. The last step in that journey could be considered the least celebrated, but to me, the most intriguing. What remained after straining homemade coconut milk was not quite fine enough to call flour, but certainly not refined enough to call flakes. It fell firmly between the two categories; rough around the edges but quite sweet and charming once you got to know it.

Finding a way to eat through that volume of pulpy excess was ultimately a more rewarding challenge than the monotonous task of sanding down the sharp edges and fine lines of a coconut shell. Taking inspiration from their Asian origins, Thai spices join the mix to form tender patties, fashioned into bite-sized sliders perfect for celebrating the tail end of summer. They aren’t burgers by any stretch of the imagination and they don’t try to be. I wanted to celebrate the coconut in all its natural glory, succulent and tender, cradled between two buns- Mock meats need not apply.

I daresay that this unconventional take on the typical picnic fare would be perfect to liven up any Labor Day festivities you may have planned. Even if your plans for the three day weekend consist of little more than binge-watching Netflix and pulling your long sleeve shirts out of storage, there’s no reason why these flavorful sliders can’t be on the menu. These versatile patties are just the start of the fun, inviting a wide range of fully customization toppings to suit even the most exotic cravings. I’ve listed some of my favorites below to get you started.

In case you don’t just happen to have a couple of fresh coconuts on hand to turn into pulp, you can absolutely process plain old unsweetened shredded coconut into a coarse meal instead.

Thai Coconut Sliders

Thai-Spiced Coconut Patties:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1/2 Cup Diced Shallot
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tablespoons Red Curry Paste
1 Tablespoon Ketchup
1 Tablespoon Vegan Fish Sauce or Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Cup Dry Coconut Pulp or Meal
1 Cup Cooked Jasmine Rice
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Flour
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

To Serve:

Mini Slider Buns
Sliced Cucumbers
Sliced Avocado
Fresh Cilantro or Thai Basil

Additional Topping Suggestions:

Peanut Sauce
Mango Relish or Chutney
Coconut Aioli

To prepare the patties, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium pan and add the shallots and garlic. Saute until softened and aromatic. Stir in the curry paste, cooking it for 2 – 3 minutes to bring out the full flavors of the spices. Add the ketchup, “fish” sauce, and lime juice and cook for another 3 minutes, allowing the ingredients to meld.

Transfer the aromatics to a large bowl along with the coconut pulp, cooked rice, and tapioca flour. Use a wide spatula to mix everything together. It’s a very thick mixture so you may just want to get in there with your hands to speed up the process. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Use an ice cream scoop to portion out the most consistent slider sizes, or just aim for a scant 1/4 per patty. Roll them between lightly moistened hands and press them down gently to shape.

Heat a wide skillet over medium heat and coat the bottom with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Cook 2 – 3 sliders at a time, being careful not to crowd the pan. Allow 5 – 8 minutes per side, until golden brown, flipping as needed.

Serve on mini slider buns with as many toppings as your heart desires.

Makes 7 – 8 Sliders.

Printable Recipe

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Grow, Grow, Grow Your Boat

If you’re growing zucchini in your backyard garden, or if any neighbors within a 10 mile radius are, there’s a good chance that you’re up to your ears in green squash by now. Even weeds aren’t as vigorous in most cases, crowded out by masses of tangled vines heavy with fruit and flowers. Although impressively versatile, swapping loyalties from sweet to savory associations at the drop of the hat, playing the backup or the lead singer with equal grace, there comes a point when it’s hard to contemplate another plate of the stuff. I’ve seen a particularly prolific garden down the street where zucchini line the porch, free for the taking. One of them has grown so large that it now sits regally in the deck chair, presiding over the others like a monarch, complete with a rather handsome straw hat atop its crown.

When faced with such zucchini abundance, my default answer is to bust out the trusty old spiralizer. No cooking, no muss, no fuss, and you’ve got a pile of crisp green noodles to dress up or down as you please. That’s all well and good for the average sized squash, but once you get a full pound of flesh in every squash, even the spiralizer can’t save you anymore.

Zucchini bread is a classic approach to tackling this kind of glut, but for these extenuating circumstances, it still isn’t enough. No, this calls for a full-frontal zucchini exposé, not just a handful of shreds hidden within a loaf of quick bread. Drawing inspiration from the ever-popular concept of stuffed zucchini instead, all it takes is a few simple ingredient swaps, and you’ve got a bona fide, zuchini-fied dessert worthy of any summer’s harvest.

Hollowed out and refilled with a luscious mixture of spiced bread pudding, those once unlovable giant Italian squash will finally get the praise they’re due. Never again turn away those extra-large options, claiming their interiors to be “too seedy” to be any good- A familiar refrain that I’ll admit I’m guilty of saying as well. Like any bread pudding worth its salt (or sugar, as it were) the add-ins are entirely flexible based on personal preferences. Go crazy with your favorite nut, try out different dried fruits, or go ahead, double down on the chocolate chips and indulge your inner chocoholic.

Though they don’t make for great eating in this application, there’s still no reason to toss the zucchini innards! Try chopping them up and simmer them in marinara sauce or blend them into just about any soup, for starters. You’re only limited by what your garden can produce, and if your situation is looking anything like mine, there will be quite a bit more zucchini still to come, ripe for experimentation.

Zucchini Bread Pudding Boats

2 Large Zucchini (About 1 Pound Each)
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 1/2 Tablespoons Cornstarch, Divided
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3 Ounces Sourdough or French Bread, Cut into 1/4-Inch Cubes (About 1 1/2 Cups)
1/2 Cup Raisins or Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Toasted Pecans, Chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out the seedy interiors, leaving 1/2 – 3/4 centimeter around the border to support the boat. A thin spoon should do the trick just fine, but if you’re having trouble, try an ice cream scoop instead. Place the zucchini with the cut sides up on your prepared baking sheet and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, whisk together the non-dairy milk, brown sugar, 1/2 tablespoon of the cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring frequently. Add in the vegan butter or coconut oil along with the vanilla, mix to incorporate and turn off the heat. Let cool for 10 minutes before proceeding.

In a large bowl, toss together the bread, raisins and/or chocolate chips, and nuts with the remaining tablespoon of cornstarch. Once thoroughly coated, pour in the liquid ingredients and stir thoroughly to combine. Spoon the bread pudding mixture into your waiting zucchini boats, dividing it equally between the four halves. Don’t be afraid to mound it up in the centers!

Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the zucchini is fork-tender. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Cold Noodles For Hot Days

Call it ramen 2.0, or perhaps a limited summer edition of everyone’s favorite noodle. Chilled ramen dishes are nearly as abundant and diverse as hot renditions, but are overwhelmingly underrated, uncelebrated and overlooked, in favor of more familiar preparations. Not all soups must emerge from the kitchen with a plume of steam, nor gently charred and still radiating heat. When it already feels like you’re standing in an oven just by opening up the front door, nothing hits the spot better than a refreshing bowl of ramen on ice, no matter the flavor.

They start out just as before, made of the very same stuff as their hot brethren and cooked in the same fashion. The difference is that after reaching the perfect state of toothsome tenderness, the spry young strands are immediately plunged into a shock of ice-cold water, simultaneously arresting the cooking process and dropping the temperature down quite a few degrees. Expertly guided once again by acclaimed chef and noodle master Philip Gelb, the results were practically instant- But clearly far superior.

Confronted with a bowlful of fresh, naked noodles, the options of embellishment are simply overwhelming. Every Asian culture has their own unique summertime staples that color the humble alkaline noodles with a rainbow of different flavors. Starting simple, the Japanese tsukemen truly allows the delicate nature of this handmade pasta to shine. Plunging mouthfuls into a bowl of deeply savory chilled broth, topped with a light smattering of scallions and a touch of wasabi for a bright finish, each mouthful is an essential experience of cold noodle elegance.

Kongguksu, hailing from Korea, might be the least known ramen preparation in the western world. It is a great shame that its popularity is not more widespread across the states, as it has no equal when it comes to both refreshment and satisfaction. Floating in a sea of homemade soymilk, enriched with sesame and almonds, ramen noodles are treated to a bath of rich, creamy soup. Ice cubes are tossed right into the bowl to keep things cool, through and through, ensuring that the first taste will be just as brilliant as the last. The secret is all in the soy beans, of course. Taking the extra step of removing the hulls creates the most silky texture imaginable. Though tempting, don’t even dream of taking a shortcut and buying prepared soymilk; once you’ve gone through the trouble of making your own ramen, soaking a few beans should be no big deal.

Finally, bringing the heat through bold spices but no actual fire, Szechuan Sesame Noodles are the most intense yet crowd-pleasing way to cool your noodles. Infused with lip-tingling, mouth-numbing Szechuan peppercorns, there is nothing subtle about this dish. It’s an in-your-face, action-packed thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. That intense flavor can be adjusted according to preference, but the whole point of this dish is to make you sweat to maximize the cooling effect. It’s scientifically proven that sweating is actually one of the most effective ways to beat the heat, and this Chinese staple will definitely yield delicious results.

It would be impossible to pick one favorite from these three completely unique takes on the cold ramen noodle. Luckily, Chef Philip was generous enough to offer his recipes for all of them, so you don’t have to choose. Bear in mind that each preparation will need a new batch of ramen noodles and serve about four hungry eaters.

Now there’s no reason you can’t keep your cool this summer, and still do it in good taste.

Ramen Noodles

Bring 2 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Drop in noodles and cook for about 60 seconds. Once the noodles are al dente, rinse in cold water to immediately stop the cooking process.

Japanese Cold Noodle Dipping Sauce

Dipping Sauce:
1 2/3 Cup Kombu Dashi (Seaweed Stock)
1/2 Cup Sake
4 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Palm Sugar

Optional Additions:
Sliced Scallions
Grated Daikon

Wasabi or Karashi (Hot Mustard)

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan. Set over medium heat, bring to a boil, and simmer for 3 minutes. Let cool and chill completely before serving. Add in as many of the optional ingredients into the sauce as desired, to taste, or set them out in small bowls for diners to mix into the sauce at will.

Kon Gook Soo / Kongguksu (Cold Soybean Noodle Soup)

1 Cup Dried Soybeans, Soaked Overnight, Rinsed and Drained
2 Tablespoons Raw Sesame Seeds, Soaked Overnight, Rinsed and Drained
1/4 Cup Raw Almonds, Soaked Overnight, Rinsed and Drained
6 Cups Cold Water
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon White Pepper
1 English Cucumber, Julienned
Crushed Ice, as Needed

Cook soybeans in 1 quart of boiling water for 15 minutes. Rinse and drain. Place soybeans in a bowl, fill with water, and gently rub the beans until they split and the hulls come off. The hulls will float to the top and can be easily discarded while draining the water. Remove at least 90% of the hulls.

Add the hulled and drained soybeans to a blender along with the sesame seeds, almonds, and cold water. Puree on high speed for 2 minutes and chill this mixture until very cold. Add salt and pepper, stirring well and adjusting seasonings to taste, as needed.

Divide the cooked noodles between four bowls. Place a handful of ice in each, and top the noodles with sliced cucumber. Pour the soymilk on top and serve immediately.

Cold Szechuan Sesame Noodles

Sesame Sauce:
1/2 Cup Kombu Stock
1/4 Cup Roasted Peanuts
1/4 Cup Toasted Sesame Seeds
1 (or More) Fresh Thai Chili
2 Teaspoons Minced Garlic
1 Heaping Teaspoon Szechuan Peppercorns, Toasted
3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Dark Chinese Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Palm Sugar
1 Tablespoon Chiankiang Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Minced Fresh Cilantro
1 Tablespoon Szechuan Chili Oil

Garnish:
English Cucumber, Slivered
Scallion, Chopped
Beansprouts

In a blender, add all the sauce ingredients and puree until completely smooth. Chill thoroughly.

To serve, toss together the noodles, sauce, and all of the garnishes desired. Serve immediately.

Each Preparation Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Lazy Day Luxuries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Go Fourth and Conquer

Fellow Americans, arm yourselves with a cold beverage and prepare for the party of the summer! If you’re really on the ball, you’ve already checked out of work and are easing into a full four day weekend, packed with all the things that make this country great: Explosions, drunken revelry, and more food than you can comfortably consume but still manage to, heartily. It’s a no-holds-barred celebration of summer, and I believe that very same free spirit should apply to the menu, no matter what your specific plans are. Whether you’re planning a low-key affair with just a few friends, a giant neighborhood bash that includes a couple of zip codes, or some very patriotic Netflix and chill alone, this is not an event that calls for culinary frippery. Leave the recipes in the kitchen, but take these ideas to the celebration.

Potato salad is pretty much mandatory, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be larded up with a thick miasma of creamy dressing and unidentifiable “vegetables.” Rather, try out a vinaigrette version and think of more flavorful additions. Some of my favorites include caramelized onions, thinly shaved fennel, olives or capers for some briny goodness, and meatless bacon of any variety. It doesn’t take too much to make it shine, so keep it to 5 inclusions at the most and don’t overthink this one.

Corn, one of the only crops indigenous to North America, is another friend that must be invited to join the fun. The absolute freshest sweet corn is a joy to eat cold and raw, but if you live more than 1 hour away from the fields, toss your ears on the grill for a real treat. Take a page from elote and slather it vegan mayo, sprinkle generously with paprika and nutritional yeast, and finish it off with a squeeze of lime. Eaten straight off the cob, it will be incredibly delicious and extremely messy if done right.

Anything on a stick. (Seen here: shishito peppers.) Enough said.

As many dips as you have chips! My vote goes for hummus or guacamole, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be plain. Dress up your chickpea spreads with spinach or artichokes to recall some of that old school flavor, or go bold and douse your guac with a generous squeeze of sriracha.

Though they may be “traditional” mains, skip the hot dogs and hamburgers this year. Instead, stuff some fresh veggies and celebrate the height of growing season here in the states. Any sort of grains and beans make fine fodder here, with bell peppers or zucchini serving as prime vessels, and you can even wrap them up and toss them on the grill, too.

For dessert, all you need is fruit. Yes, really, coming from the sweet-toothed baker, take my word for it! Something light, sweet, cold, and refreshing will hit the spot after a day out in the sun. The only acceptable alternative is ice cream, because really, when is ice cream ever a bad idea?

There you have it: A plan of attack suitable for the laziest of citizens, because working hard on this weekend of rest would be downright un-American. Happy Birthday, America! You’re looking pretty fine for all your 240 years.