BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Ask the Magic Eight Ball

Did you have one of these all-knowing oracles when you were a kid? An insightful and sage advisor with a clear vision of the future, the magic eight ball was indispensable for an indecisive child like myself. Such helpful words of wisdom it dispensed on command! So many problems solved in an instant!

Okay, in truth, my magic eight ball was not the greatest resource in trying times. Maybe it was still in training as a psychic, or had some commitment issues, but I could never seem to get a straight answer out of that thing. Even if I asked it something simple, like, “should I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch?” it would respond with something dismissive. “ask again later,” or “cannot predict now” were the top two results, no matter how lovingly or aggressively that silly plastic ball was shaken. I doubt it even had a single word of positive reinforcement to offer from its narrow rolodex of comments.

Many years later, I’ve come to find that I was seeking inspiration from the wrong eight ball entirely. Eight ball zucchini, while lacking in fortune telling skills, are unmatched in their culinary consolation. No matter how many zucchini have infiltrated your kitchen at this late stage of the summer harvest, these compact spheres can instantly renew your enthusiasm for the green squash.

Begging to be stuffed with delights both sweet and savory, there’s no limit to their potential, unlike the answers offered by an old-school magic eight ball.

Imagine, if you would, the ultimate breakfast and brunch entree. An eggless custard that falls somewhere between a soft scramble and a tender omelette, bursting with fresh vegetables and simple, comforting savory flavors. The essence of summer resounds in every bite. Who could stay hung up on murky future fates when you’ve got one of these lucky little orbs on your plate? Ask of them only questions of utmost importance, like when will the meal be served, and I promise you’ll never walk away disappointed.

Eggless Omelette Eight Ball Zucchini

4 – 5 Medium-Sized Eight Ball Zucchini
1/2 Cup Garbanzo Bean Flour
2 Tablespoons Fresh Dill or Basil, Minced
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Kala Namak (Black Salt)
1/8 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/3 Cup Chopped Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1/4 Cup Diced Red Onion
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and set out a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat.

Slice the stems off the zucchinis about 1/2 an inch from the top and set aside. Using a pointed teaspoon, grapefruit spoon, or melon baller, hollow out the insides of the squash, leaving about a 1/4-inch thick wall on the sides and bottom. Roughly chop the innards and set aside. Brush lightly with olive oil, inside and out, and place the squash shells on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until fork-tender but still firm.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by whisking together the garbanzo bean flour, fresh herbs, arrowroot, garlic powder, black salt, pepper, and turmeric. Make sure that all the dry ingredients are well combined before adding in the leftover zucchini pieces, sun-dried tomatoes, and onion, tossing to coat. Pour the vegetable stock, oil, and vinegar in all at once, and whisk until smooth (aside from the vegetable additions, of course.)

After par-baking, fill the zucchini up to the top with the eggless omelette mixture. Place the zucchini tops on the baking sheet next to them, lightly brush with oil, and return the whole thing to the oven.

Bake until the filling is softly set; about 30 – 35 minutes. Serve right away while piping hot, or let cool to enjoy at room temperature.

Makes 4 – 5 Stuffed Eight Ball Zucchinis; 2 – 3 Servings

Printable Recipe

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Silent Sunday: Sichuan Situation

Tofu Clay Pot

Turnip Cakes

Hot and Sour Soup

Steamed Bao

Big Lantern
3170 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

Garlic Pea Shoots

Fish-Fragrant Eggplant

Vegetable Dumplings

MaMa Ji’s
4416 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94114



Sizzling Eggplant

Bean Curd with Mushrooms

Pot Stickers

Crispy Taro Rolls

Lucky Creation
854 Washington St
San Francisco, CA 94108


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For the Sake of Sake

While much of the country closes up their beach chairs and dusts off their long sleeve shirts, things are just beginning to heat up in the bay area. Summer always arrives fashionably late, yet the visit never fails to catch us by surprise. When temperatures jump over 20 degrees in a day, topping out around 110 in some particularly hellish pockets of the city, talk of pumpkin spice lattes sounds like a cruel joke. If I should so much as contemplate operating the oven, I swear my entire kitchen would likely ignite like a tinderbox full of gunpowder. After this record-breaking weekend, I can easily imagine what it feels like to live on the surface of the sun.

Cooking under such conditions is out of the question. Rational cravings and hunger goes straight out the window too, for that matter. If it’s not coming straight out of the fridge or freezer, I don’t want to know about it. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and only one thing in my arsenal could effectively take the edge off: Ice-cold coffee sake.

Typically a non-drinker, no one is more surprised than I by how quickly sake has become a prized indulgence for me. I’m blaming it entirely on Takara Sake, Berkeley-based sake makers that offer mini museum tours followed by generous tasting flights. There, I discovered that sake is so much more than just fermented liquid rice, and so much more drinkable than the average swill I’m accustomed to. One of their more unusual offerings include sparkling sake, which reminds me of soda; already a guilty pleasure going on many years now. What really hooked me on my last visit, however, was the sweet coffee-flavored sake, a genuine dessert drink that can rival the best coffee liqueur on the shelf.

After securing a sleek bottle for myself, for whatever reason, the first thing that popped into my head was tiramisu. The situation called for something considerably cooler though, so creating a fleet of creamy, subtly spiked popsicles seemed like the only rational option.

Forget about baking ladyfingers or any fussy cake. Since it will simply soften in the sweet, slightly tangy base, crushed vanilla cookies work perfectly fine for this application, soaking up all the sake with ease. If you don’t have access to this heavenly elixir, you can use any plain sake and just increase the instant coffee powder to taste.

Tirami-Sake Pops

1 8-Ounce Container Vegan Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Coffee Sake, Divided
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
6 Vanilla Sandwich Cookies, Roughly Crushed
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Granules
1 Teaspoon Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder

To make the creamy base, simply blend the cream cheese, sugar, non-dairy milk, 2 tablespoons of the sake, vanilla, and salt together until smooth.

Separately, mix the crushed cookies, the remaining sake, instant coffee, and cocoa powder in a small bowl, stirring thoroughly until the coffee granules have dissolved.

Layer the base and the cookie mush into popsicle molds of your choice. Insert sticks and stash on a level surface in your freezer. Let rest for at least 4 hours, or until solid.

Printable Recipe


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Where’s the Beef?

I’ve got a beef with veggie burgers, but not for their vegetable content. Red meat never held much allure for me prior to taking the vegan plunge, so I’ve always been delighted to have a patty composed of lentils, seitan, or any other plant protein instead. The trouble is that burgers are all too often the default meatless entree, shoehorned into an otherwise carnivorous menu; the throwaway dish that’s shipped in frozen and goes out barely thawed, mushy and bland all the way through. It’s pretty much the last thing I would order at a restaurant, just one step above the plain pasta and marinara sauce option.

Considering my distaste for both meat and burgers, I’m probably the last person to get whipped into a frenzy over the new breed of beef alternatives, but my culinary curiosity knows no bounds. Living by the mantra that anything vegan is worth tasting at least once, I could find no reason why not to give this fresh alternative the benefit of the doubt.

“It’s for people who love meat,” Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown has boldly proclaimed on a number of occasions. No, I’m not the target audience, to say the least, but I can appreciate good food regardless. Besides, the end goal is not just a matter of taste, but to reach a whole new audience, which I can wholeheartedly support. As Brown explains, “We’re actually enabling customers to eat more [plant-based] meat,” instead of merely preaching to the choir.

Now available in the no-man’s land of the meat section, Beyond Burger patties are sold “raw” among the traditional ground beef products, right next to the bloody Styrofoam trays. It’s unnerving and frankly off-putting for a longtime herbivore, but the message comes across loud and clear. This is not just a melange of vegetables molded into a puck, but something designed to genuinely look, smell, and feel like raw beef. On those fronts, I would say the Beyond Burger conclusively succeeds.

Even before removing the patties from the package, the aroma of beef is striking and unmistakable. Seared brown on the outside but still unnervingly pink on the inside, it’s easily the meatiest thing I’ve eaten in over 14 years. Not quite “juicy” per say, but a satisfying fattiness is imparted by neutral coconut oil, giving it the gratifying richness of actual animal protein. Granted, the texture might be a little off, seeming a bit more fibrous than I recall, but my memories are admittedly somewhat hazy at best. Overall, the experience is one very true to the bovine-based inspiration; savory but subtle, a neutral palate for additional seasonings or toppings, and yes, very meaty.

But that’s far from the end of the story.

Competing for the same place at the table, Impossible Foods claims to take the plant-based burger one step further. Only available in a select few restaurants, it remains out of reach for most mainstream audiences at this point, especially considering the price tag it commands on the high-end eateries. Such exclusivity only adds to the appeal, creating an air of mystery for those without easy access. Though typically immune to such marketing tactics, I somehow found myself joining the line as soon as Gott’s Roadside announced that they would carry this new plant-powered patty.

Here’s the rub: It must be ordered on sourdough bread, not a bun, without cheese or sauce, and grilled on a separate surface to qualify as vegan. That would be all well and good, but their treatment of the meatless beefcake is downright abusive. Emerging from the kitchen not just well done, but truly overdone, the exterior is genuinely crunchy. Any sign of the signature pink heme has been completely driven out, which misses the entire point of this particular patty. While I didn’t mind eating it, I could have just as well been chowing down on any old school texture vegetable protein burger. Savory and meaty, yes, but lacking any distinguishing characteristics that set it apart from the pack, I was sorely disappointed by this fast food fix.

Furthermore, the actual cooking experience is an important and defining factor. Pan-frying the Beyond Burger at home meant that the aroma of the burger filled the entire house, lingering long after the meal was eaten, deepening the impact of its meat-like qualities. To be honest, this was almost too much to bear, and I wish I had the foresight to grill the burgers outside. Meat lovers should be thrilled, however, especially thanks to the greater accessibility provided by this mainstream option.

The conversation is just getting started, but at least for now, I have to call Beyond Meat the winner of this beefless debate.

Have you tried either of these burger alternatives? Do you agree, disagree, or just think the entire pursuit of plant-based beef is absurd? Where do your meatless loyalties lie? Beef up the comment section with your thoughts!


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Jack of All Trades

Anything meat can do, plants can do better.

This isn’t news, but affirmation of fact. Brilliant marvels of engineering, science, and nutrition are bringing greater alternatives to the market every day, but sometimes it seems like the best substitutes have been right under our noses all along, growing in plain sight. Jackfruit is that underdog; the geeky guy in high school that ends up getting the girl and beating the popular kids at their own game. All it takes is a new perspective, some small insight and self-discovery, to unlock its full potential.

Though I adore eating the fresh, sweet fruit, the young, canned jackfruit in brine is the meat of the matter here. Slowly simmered in an aromatic marinade inspired by sweet tea, an irreplaceable summertime brew designed for maximum refreshment, these immature arils tenderize to a texture almost indistinguishable from pulled pork. Spiked with fresh lemon, it has a tart, sweet-and-sour balance, pulling out all the savory stops.

Deceptively simple, the ginger-scallion slaw is not to be underestimated, nor overlooked. Crisp, cooling, yet bright and invigorating in flavor, I could honestly just eat this by the bowlful. It’s an ideal foil to the richly meaty main, and truly completes this deeply satisfying sandwich.

Thinking along the lines of complete culinary inclusion and offering a main dish to suit all diets, I was also inspired by the Steviva Blogger Challenge.

Sugar is neither stranger nor foe to me. As a baker with a serious sweet tooth, I consider myself very lucky that it’s one ingredient that I don’t need to worry about. Many are far more sensitive, and it always bums me out when I can’t share my latest creations with them. For this dish, while you could use plain granulated sugar in a pinch, plant-based Erysweet, made of erythritol, sweetens the deal. It’s not as sweet as table sugar, so it merely smooths out the harsh edges of the citrus and tea in this tangy marinade.

Life is sweeter when it can be shared. Meatless, sugarless, or otherwise, this is a dish that everyone can enjoy*.

*This is especially true if you use tamari instead of soy sauce and opt for gluten-free buns if wheat is an additional concern!

Sugar-Free Sweet Tea Pulled Jackfruit

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Medium Red Onion, Thinly Sliced (About 1 Cup)
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Black Tea Leaves
1/4 Cup Erysweet (or 3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar if Not Sugar-Free)
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
14 Ounces Young Jackfruit, Drained and Rinsed
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary, Crushed
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Ginger-Scallion Slaw:

1 Cup Roughly Chopped Scallions
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Chopped
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Medium Head Green Cabbage, Shredded (about 6 Cups)
1 Cup Shredded Carrots

3 – 4 Sandwich Buns, for Serving

Place a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Add the oil and onion, stirring periodically until softened and aromatic. Introduce the garlic and tea leaves next, cooking until golden all over. Give it time, because this could take 10 – 15 minutes to properly brown. Stir in the Erysweet (or sugar, if you’re not worried about making this sugar-free) and then quickly deglaze by pouring in the lemon juice, vegetable stock, and soy sauce all at once. Thoroughly scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure that nothing is sticking and burning.

Add the jackfruit, rosemary, and pepper next, stirring gently to incorporate without splashing. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer until most of the liquid evaporates; about 20 – 30 minutes. Use the side of your spatula to roughly mash/shred the jackfruit once it’s fork-tender.

For the slaw, toss the scallions, ginger, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt into your blender. Pulse to break down the more fibrous aromatics, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container if needed. With the motor running, slowly stream in the olive oil to achieve a creamy emulsification. Pour the dressing over the cabbage and carrots in a large bowl, mixing to thoroughly coat all of the veggie shreds.

To serve, lightly toast the buns and top with generous spoonfuls of the stewed jackfruit and slaw. Devour immediately! These are unapologetically messy sandwiches, so don’t be afraid to dive right in trying to be dainty about it. The buns will only grow progressively more soggy once fully assembled.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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As Good As Ten Mothers

Instantly, his face contorted with a mixture of skepticism and disgust. Though I knew the concept was a bit unconventional, I didn’t realize just how contentious it could be. Just one mention of the recipe sent this man into a fit of mock dry heaves, illustrating the depth of his disapproval with comic effect.

That’s when I knew I had to make it.

More infamous than any other single element of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, garlic ice cream has become the main event for many. Tiny cones of soft serve can be found in every corner of the pungent fair grounds, delighting and appalling in equal measure. Gaining mainstream traction, or at least dubious acceptance, purely as a novelty, the idea nonetheless captured my imagination. Rather than playing it up as a token offering merely for shock value, my goal was to truly celebrate the sweeter side of garlic.

Slowly roasted to golden caramelized perfection, the cloves lose their assertive, harsh bite, bringing their natural sugars to the fore. Every cook and eater the world over has experienced this glorious transformation and knows the magic well. The real secret ingredient in my blend, however, is black garlic. Aged for at least 30 days, the cloves turn into spreadable nuggets of pure garlic candy. The mysterious process transforms the ubiquitous seasoning into an entirely new ingredient, difficult to describe but impossible to forget. It’s the key here to balancing out the more savory undertones of the garlic, while maintaining its integrity. The end results should still taste like garlic, after all- Not like syrupy scampi sauce.

Crunchy garlic chips aren’t necessary to enjoy the full effect of this ode to garlic, but they do undeniably elevate it to a higher level, fit for a fancy affair if you should be so bold. Though they make the scoops look tiny, go for the giant, oversized cloves found in elephant garlic, which are easily 4 times the size of the average bulb and far milder in flavor. They’ll add a satisfying crunch to contrast with this creamy, cool treat.

Granted, this unusual frozen dessert will not be for everyone, like my aforementioned critical friend. Proceed with an open mind and a genuine love of garlic, and you will be in for a treat.

In reference to the post title, if you didn’t see the eponymous documentary, you really must do yourself a favor and download it, posthaste. Another friend on mine, not featured in this brief story, has told me that it was what inspired her to move to California many years ago.

Garlic Ice Cream

3 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 1/2 Tablespoons Arrowroot
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Vegan Cream Cheese
1 Tablespoon Black Garlic, Mashed
2 Teaspoons Roasted Garlic, Mashed

Garlic Chips (Optional):

2 – 3 Cloves Elephant Garlic
Olive Oil Spray

To make the ice cream, simply toss all the ingredients into your trusty blender or food processor. Thoroughly puree on high speed for for 2 – 3 minutes, until completely smooth. Pass the mixture through a fine strainer to ensure a flawlessly silky texture, if desired.

Transfer to a medium saucepan and set over moderate heat. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the mixture just comes to a boil. Turn off the heat and let cool. Chill for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator before churning in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Spoon the soft ice cream into an airtight container, and let set in the freezer for at least 3 hours before serving, until solid enough to scoop.

For the garlic chips, peel and slice the giant cloves of elephant garlic as thinly as possible. If you have a small mandoline to ensure consistency, now is when you want to break it out. Lay out the slices in one even layer on a silpat- or parchment paper-line baking sheet, making sure that none overlap.

Lightly spritz with olive oil to evenly coat the pieces. Bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees 15 – 30 minutes (depending on the thickness of your slices), rotating the pan and flipping over the slices every 10 minutes or so to ensure even cooking, until golden brown and crispy. Let cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 – 3 days, maximum. Top scoops of ice cream with garlic chips as desired.

Makes About 1 Quart Ice Cream

Printable Recipe


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Summertime Snow Day

“Healthy” ice cream is all the rage these days, churning up new pints that promise more protein than your average energy bar, often with an equally chalky flavor to match. Seeking to redefine the category without the hype, Snow Monkey has an ambitious goal of crafting a frozen treat that is both delicious and nutritious. Superfoods like hemp seeds and sunflower butter blend into unconventional treats, taking a wholesome and unrefined approach to the concept, unlike the icy alternatives.

Fully loaded with 20 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber all told, eaters are encouraged to indulge in the entire pint without remorse. That would be one hefty snack, if not a full meal, as this is one genuinely satisfying and energizing scoop. I daresay the Goji Berry variety may just be the new acai bowl, brilliantly purple and every bit as refreshing, fruity, yet subtly tangy and tart. I must say, however, that the Cacao was easily the winning flavor between the two. Gentle, measured sweetness allowed the natural bitter edge of the chocolate to remain, granting it a greater depth and dimension than most purely chocolate treats are allowed. Reminiscent of chocolate sorbet, it’s light, easy to eat; a refreshing way to refuel without weighing you down.

Granted, Snow Monkey hasn’t hit on the fabled perfect food quite yet. Don’t dig in expecting a decadent ice cream experience, as this powerful formula was conceived of less as an indulgent dessert, but more as high-octane frozen fuel to suit an active lifestyle. Not quite creamy in the traditional sense, but smooth and silky, thick enough to linger momentarily on the palate, it’s a tasty reward that comes close, but may not quite fulfill every sweet tooth’s craving. The banana-forward flavor is another potential barrier to mainstream acceptance, owing much of its sweetness to the pureed fruit.

For a healthy treat, there’s no comparison; I’d dig into the freezer for a spoonful rather than another bite of a boring granola bar, any day of the week.