The Trouble with Truffles

When it comes to truffles, how much is too much? Is there even such a thing as “too much” when we’re talking about the most savory, hyper-palatable substance found in nature? Sure, it’s easy to go overboard with a few seemingly harmless extra drops of truffle oil, turning a previously balanced dish into an acrid chemistry experiment gone wrong, but that’s another story entirely. Most commercial options rely on entirely lab-created chemicals for their aroma, without a single fleck of fungus in sight. Carried by cheap filler oils, these knock-offs lack the subtle nuances, earthy richness, and depth of pure umami intensity distilled within real truffles. Dirty diamonds locked within nubby black exteriors that could just as easily be mistaken as rocks are the key to this taste of luxury that no scientist can replicate.

When you go all-in on the real deal, you’ll know the difference when you taste it. Immediately it hits you, sweeping you off your feet before that first bite even hits your taste buds. The aroma alone can stop a conversation in its tracks and turn heads, like a dazzling supermodel making a grand entrance at a party. This bombshell doesn’t need any makeup or designer clothing to captivate, though. All that brilliance and more is found within; inherent, implicit, obvious to see beyond shallow outward aesthetics.

The real trouble with truffles is that their delicate nuances begin to fade almost as soon as they’re unearthed. Part of their scarcity is due to this ephemeral quality. Even if you can get the real deal, fresh isn’t always best. Personally, my top pick is always preserved, since there’s no gambling with lack of access, nor variable quality. At least that’s the case with Truffle Hunter. There’s nowhere to hide on these short labels fronting meaty shavings of black summer truffles, lightly brined and kept pristine in extra virgin olive oil. In that two-for-one punch, you get the full-bodied fungus, AND true infused truffle oil.

Genuine luxury is sinking your teeth into one of those substantial sheets of pure umami power. Frequently recommended as a topper for crostini, that suggestion made me think of toast, which naturally leads to avocado toast, and the inspiration to embellish was unstoppable from there.

Avocado toast elevated to the status of fine fare, this breakfast staple is now fit for a crowd. Taking basic staples to the next level, a tiny dose of white truffle balsamic vinegar is blended into creamy, luscious cashew ricotta, harmonizing with the beautifully marbled slabs of black truffle sparkling on top.

Resting atop a lightly seasoned crust of crisp breadcrumbs, each layer is more decadent than the last. Buttery, bright green avocados take on a greater degree of decadence, heightened by the intense, earthy, almost nutty notes of truffles. You could always gild the lily with a finishing kiss of truffle salt… But that might just test the theory that too much is never enough.

Simply sublime, sublimely simple. It may be tough to go back to plain old avocados on bread after just one bite.

Continue reading “The Trouble with Truffles”

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May Flowers

Long before it became associated with the labor movement and civil unrest, the 1st of May was a Celtic festival celebrating fertility, the renewal of springtime, and the coming summer crops. Marked more by flowers and bonfires than any food or drink, it’s not exactly high on the list for modern revelry. That said, there’s no reason why we can’t have our bouquets and eat them, too.

Nasturtium are some of my favorite edible flowers for their shockingly vibrant red, orange, and yellow tones, but most importantly when we’re talking about food, the spicy bite they conceal in those bold petals. Peppery, like a spicy mustard in flavor, they’re reminiscent of watercress and go a long way to add a bright punch in any fresh dish. The leaves, seed pods and flowers are all edible although of course, the blossoms have the most brilliant visual impact. Beyond that eye candy factor, they’re quite the little nutritional powerhouses, high in vitamin A, C, and D.

For the super thrifty, buds and seeds can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers. Used in concert with the flowers, you’re well on your way to a unique seasonal treat.

Another approach to preserving your harvest is to turn the greens into pesto. Use right away or freeze in cubes for long term storage. Simply pop out a cube or two and thaw directly in hot pasta to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor all year round.

Make the leaves into a Greek-inspired meal by using them to prepare dolma, instead of the traditional preserved grape or fig leaves. Chose larger leaves to accommodate a greater volume of filling and steam lightly to make them a bit more pliable before rolling.

Anywhere you might use tender greens like spinach or arugula, nasturtium leaves can fill in the gaps, too! Shred them into thin ribbons and incorporate into quick stir fries, soups, and of course both raw and lightly wilted salads.

Consider stuffing the blossoms with cashew cheese and serving them chilled or flash-fried like you would with baby squash blossoms. Since I find it almost impossible to track down the latter at any reasonable price, the allure of a readily available, completely free, foraged alternative is too much to resist. They’re brilliant served all by their lonesome, or used to top crackers, sliced cucumbers, or toast.

Speaking of toast… As you can see from the photo above, one of my favorite ways of highlighting the bright flavors and bold colors of the nasturtium is to simply use it as a toast topper. Instantly elevate the mundane, everyday slice of bread to something Instagram-worthy, and awaken your taste buds with the surprising peppery pops of flavor they conceal. Once you have these potent and beautiful blossoms in hand, there’s truly no way to go wrong.

Raise a Toast

No one bats an eye at $4 toast anymore. Once the greatest offense to pragmatic diners, such an expense seems downright affordable, especially in a city where you’d easily pay twice as much just for street parking three blocks away. Fancy toast has become the new normal, not an affront to sensibility, but a dish to celebrate for its simplicity. Proper toast celebrates each ingredient, starting with the best and brings out its full character. Thick sliced bread, crisped to a burnished golden brown all over, piled high with impeccably fresh fruits or vegetables, flavors are layered and carefully built, often with even more care than the standard American breakfast plate.

Toast toppings are as diverse as the people making them, which is both good and bad news for the avid eater. Order something as unassuming as toast, such a ubiquitous offering, and for all the sweet and savory surprises that could arrive at your table, you’d never get bored. So many choices could just as easily overwhelm, however, paralyzing the indecisive at their most vulnerable, food-deprived moment- At least that’s the case for me. Worse is when I’m making toast at home, given the full range of ingredients tucked away in the pantry and fridge, with no energy to figure out the best combinations.

For anyone else who feels that same struggle, let’s simplify the already uncomplicated concept. Focusing on a nut butter base to narrow the scope and make this more managable, I’ve come up with scores of effortless pairings based on what lurks in my pantry most of the time. Needless to say, this is just the beginning of an endless tale. One could, and many already have, written cookbooks on the subject, so I present to you here just the tried-and-true favorites, the best of the best, that keep my bread crisp and my stomach content.

  • The Elvis: Peanut butter with banana slices and coconut bacon.
  • Birthday Cake: Cashew butter mixed with a drop of vanilla extract, topped with turbinado sugar and sprinkles.
  • Cookie Dough: Cashew butter mixed with a tiny bit of oat flour, a drop of vanilla extract, topped with chocolate chips and a pinch of coarse sea salt.
  • Super Seed: Sunflower seed butter topped with toasted pepitas, hulled hemp seeds, chia seeds, and a very light drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Coarse sea salt optional.
  • Chocolate-Covered Cherries: Almond butter mixed with cocoa powder, topped with pitted fresh cherries or cherry preserves, drizzled with chocolate syrup.
  • Nutella: Hazelnut butter mixed with cocoa powder, topped with toasted hazelnuts, cacao nibs, and a drizzle of maple syrup.
  • Tropical Breeze: Macadamia nut butter topped with thinly sliced pineapple, a light sprinkle of ground ginger, and toasted coconut flakes.
  • Thai Almond: Almond butter topped with bean sprouts, cilantro, a drizzle of sriracha and a pinch of coarse sea salt.
  • Banana Pudding: Cashew butter with half a banana mashed into it, topped with the remaining banana, sliced, and crushed graham cracker crumbs.
  • Massaman Curry: Peanut butter with madras curry powder mixed in, topped with roasted sweet potato and toasted peanuts.
  • The Cereal Bowl: Almond butter topped with granola and a drizzle of vanilla yogurt.
  • Pecan Pie: Pecan butter topped with toasted pecans, a light sprinkle of cinnamon, and a drizzle of maple syrup.
  • Salted Caramel: Cashew butter mixed with dark brown sugar and a pinch of salt, topped with turbinado sugar and coarse sea salt.
  • Mocha Latte: Almond butter with instant coffee powder and cocoa mixed in, optionally topped with coconut whipped cream.
  • Ants Off a Log: Peanut butter topped with thinly sliced celery and raisins.
  • Sonoma Harvest: Hazelnut butter topped with sliced grapes, arugula, a drizzle of balsamic glaze, and toasted sliced almonds.
  • Apple Pie: Cashew butter topped with brown sugar, thinly sliced sweet apples, and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Cheesecake: Cashew butter swirled with vegan cream cheese, topped with sliced strawberries and crushed graham cracker crumbs.
  • The Pregnant Lady: Peanut butter topped with sliced bread and butter pickles, optionally topped with coconut whipped cream.
  • S’mores: Cashew butter topped with chocolate chips, crushed graham cracker crumbs, and toasted vegan marshmallows.

Some are obvious, some are a bit more avant-garde, but all are thoroughly delicious. What are your favorite ways to raise a toast?

Sweet and Sour

Without sourness, there could be no sweetness, and vice versa. Experiencing one creates the perspective necessary to appreciate the other, to truly recognize the full spectrum of flavors between the extremes. Finding balance between such starkly contrasted tastes is rare, but highly sought after judging by the popularity of the sweet and sour sauces found splashed across every generic Chinese takeout menu in America. Something about that acidic twang and its sugary foil brings us back for bite after bite, no matter the vehicle, be it protein or vegetable. Asian cultures don’t have a monopoly on this culinary game, though, despite their domination in the field.

Italian agrodolce has a sharp yet sugared character all its own, typically created by a combination of a vinegar reduction and dried fruits. It’s great as a glaze for an entree, like pan-seared tofu or tempeh, or tossed with fresh pasta for a side, but today I’m using it to kick off a party with a wallop of bold flavor.

Everyone’s favorite vegetable du jour, cauliflower, comes in a full spectrum of colors far more brilliant than the average white floret would suggest. Roasted with just a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper, the simplicity of that preparation is hard to beat, but you can easily step up your starter game with this stellar sauce. In this unconventional approach, briny capers join the fun to turn the dial to 11, but finely chopped green olives could make a fabulous, more mild understudy.

My favorite serving suggestion involves bread. Wide open planes of thick toasted bread or more dainty slices of baguette, first smeared with cashew ricotta for a rich, creamy base which elegantly cuts through these sharp contrasts.

If you’re not crazy about pairing fruit with savory vegetables, I hear you. I too would have given this combination the side eye not long ago. Suspend disbelief long enough take a chance; unlike the cloying and syrupy renditions of sweet and sour that turned me away in the past, this one, like life itself, is all about finding beauty in balance.

Yield: Makes 6 - 8 Servings

Roasted Rainbow Cauliflower Agrodolce

Roasted Rainbow Cauliflower Agrodolce

Roasted with just a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper, cauliflower meets briny capers in this boldly colored and flavored side.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Pounds Purple, White, Green, and/or Orange Cauliflower Florets (About 3 – 4 Small Heads Total)
  • 6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 3/4 Cup Jumbo Raisin Medley or Golden Raisins
  • 1/4 Cup Sherry Vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup Capers, Drained
  • 1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets, garlic, oil, salt, and
    pepper together until thoroughly combined and evenly seasoned. Arrange
    in a single layer on a large baking sheet, or divide between two baking
    sheets if needed. Place in the center of the oven and roast until golden
    brown and fork tender; about 20 – 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, mix the vinegar,
    capers, and raisins and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer
    gently until all the liquid has absorbed into the fruit.
  4. Toss the roasted cauliflower with the vinegared raisins, along with the minced parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 195Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 251mgCarbohydrates: 37gFiber: 5gSugar: 26gProtein: 3g

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.

Spring Things

Cherry blossoms. Butterflies. Misted, dewy mornings. Song bird serenades.

These are the things that spring is made of.

Fava beans. Asparagus. Rhubarb. Soft green herbs. Morel mushrooms.

These are the things that spring tastes like.

The promise of these things are what make winter worth enduring, no matter how brutal or seemingly interminable those frigid, forbidding days of darkness become. Slowly but surely, that veil of frost will be lifted to reveal to reveal tender green shoots emerging from quickly thawing earth, revitalized after such fitful slumber.

At long last, all signs point to spring here on the west coast, although that’s not quite the case nationwide. It’s hard to imagine blizzard conditions elsewhere while strapping on sandals to greet the day.

Should these early days of April fall short of expectations, don’t despair. One particular taste of spring is still easily accessible even if your local farmers market remains barren. Fresh peas are an exquisite treat, verdant and shockingly sweet straight out of the pod, but frozen are no terrible sacrifice in a pinch. Roughly mashed into a chunky spread with bright mint and lemon accents, the simple combination is enough to make any residual memories of winter melt away, even if the snow refuses to follow suit.

This combination of rich almond-based ricotta and bright pea puree on a slab of hearty, seeded bread is actually a limited-edition menu item on offer at Nourish Cafe. In case you can’t hustle in before the season comes to a close, it’s an easy recipe to make at home for a taste of spring that everyone can enjoy year-round, worldwide.

Yield: 4 Servings

Spring Pea Toast

Spring Pea Toast

This combination of rich almond-based ricotta and bright pea puree on a slab of hearty, seeded bread is an easy recipe to make at home for a taste of spring that everyone can enjoy year-round, worldwide.

Ingredients

Minted Pea Pistou:

  • 1/2 Cup Fresh Mint, Lightly Packed
  • 1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Lightly Packed
  • 3 Tablespoons Garlic Oil
  • 2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
  • 1 Pound (3 Cups) Fresh, Blanched or Frozen, Thawed Green Peas
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

For Assembly:

  • 4 Thick Slices Toast
  • 1 Cup Vegan Ricotta
  • 1/2 Cup Fresh Peas
  • Pea Shoots or Sprouts (Optional)
  • Edible Flowers (Optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the mint, spinach, garlic oil, and lemon juice in your food processor and blend until the leaves are all broken down and the mixture is fairly smooth. Pause to scrape down the sides of the container as needed to make sure everything gets incorporated. Add in the peas, salt, and pepper, and pulse until spreadable but still slightly coarse.
  2. To assemble the toast, layer on a thick schmear of vegan ricotta on each slice of bread, followed by the pea pistou and topped with fresh peas, pea shoots, and edible flowers if desired. Savor a taste of spring, no matter the weather outside!

Notes

The pea pistou can be prepared in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 – 4 days.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 216Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 397mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 11gSugar: 12gProtein: 12g