BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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The Life of Pie

Not all brilliant ideas start out that way. Anyone that’s spent a decent amount of time tinkering with recipes can attest to that, often chalking up more failures than successes despite any amount of experience at the stove. Case in point: This stubborn crusted wonder known fondly as a Caramel Corn Pie, which should have graced the pages of Easy as Vegan Pie.

Conceptually sound yet more temperamental than a 5-year old crashing from a sugar high, it was my problem child of the bunch. After sending it through the ringer with over a half-dozen different trials, completely revamping the base and rendering it unrecognizable from the original approach, sweet relief seemed to be in sight. Handing over the results to my unsuspecting recipe testers, I stood back with a smug sense of pride, awaiting the flood of enthusiastic feedback sure to return in no time.

Needless to say, that was not the case. Still baking unevenly, working in fits and starts, there was no rhyme nor reason to why it would work for some but flop spectacularly for others. Endless last minute tweaks caused it to miss the final deadline for joining the other perfect pies in the book, but finally, a gem I’ve been saving up to celebrate Pi Day (3.14!) the right way, its time has finally come.

For all the love that popcorn wins as a stand-alone snack, you’d think that more treats would seek to share in its reflected glory, utilizing the humble kernel for all that it’s worth. It strikes me as a huge failure of creativity that there aren’t more attempts at popcorn cupcakes, popcorn cookies, or popcorn pies. Luckily, with a bit of custard and caramel, this is a problem we can fix. Notes of burnt sugar compliment a buttery undertone, accented with a good pinch of salt. If you’re craving popcorn, it might be a wise idea to think inside the crust.

Caramel Corn Pie

1 Unbaked Classic Crust (page 36 of Easy as Vegan Pie)

Crunchy Caramel Corn Topping:

4 Cups Freshly Popped Popcorn* (From about 1/4 Cup Kernels)
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Baking Soda

Caramel Corn Custard:

4 Cups Freshly Popped Popcorn* (From about 1/4 Cup Kernels)
2 1/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/3 Cup Cornstarch
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

*To pop your corn, place the popcorn kernels in a medium-size brown paper bag (if you’re not sure if it’s big enough, err on the side of caution and pop the corn in two separate batches). Use scotch or masking tape to seal the bag shut, and put it in the microwave. Use the “popcorn” setting if possible, or set the timer for 3 ½ minutes at full power. When the popping slows to about once every 5 seconds, remove the bag, and open it very carefully, making sure your hands and face are out of the way- The steam can be quite painful! Sift out any unpopped kernels.

The caramel corn topping takes a bit longer to bake than the pie itself, so your best bet is to prepare it in advance. Preheat your oven to 225 degrees and line a jellyroll pan with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Place the first four cups of popped corn in a large bowl near the stove. In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, combine the brown sugar, non-dairy margarine, agave, and salt, stir well and bring to a boil. Cook at a vigorous bubble while stirring continuously for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda. It will foam and bubble angrily, but don’t just stand around and watch it- Make haste and pour the mixture all over the popcorn. Toss to coat each and every kernel, and spread the syrupy corn out in an even layer on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. It will become perfectly crisp once cool, so despite the tempting aroma, resist the urge to take a bite until it reaches room temperature.

Once the topping is baked and out of the oven, increase the temperature to 325 degrees.

Bring together the custard filling by combining the second measure of popped corn and non-dairy milk in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and turn off the heat. Let sit for 1 hour for the corn to soften and infuse into the liquid.

Transfer the popcorn milk to your blender or food processor and thoroughly puree. Give it at least 5 full minutes at high speed to break down the kernels as much as possible, and longer if necessary. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing to get all the liquid out. Discard the solids.

Pour the popcorn milk back into the medium saucepan, and vigorously whisk in all the remaining ingredients for the filling. When perfectly smooth, turn on the heat to medium, and bring to a boil while stirring continuously, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent the mixture from burning. Once the mixture has thickened to the point that the bottom of the pan remains visible when you stir, without the filling immediately flowing back over the surface, turn off the heat and quickly transfer it to your unbaked pie shell.

Bake until custard is set and browned on top, about 45 – 50 minutes. The center should still be a bit jiggly when tapped, much like a cheesecake. Let cool completely and top with a generous mound of the crunchy caramel corn topping before serving at room temperature.

Makes 8 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Working for Peanuts

Let’s start the week out right with something sweet and simple: Peanut butter cookies. They come in all shapes and sizes, textures and shades of brown, and I have yet to meet a single rendition that failed to satisfy. Midterm exams are leaving me with few extra words to extoll the wonders of these nutty morsels, but a ravenous hunger for their gently salted, roasted, and rich flavors. To celebrate the diversity of the classic cookie, I present to you two distinct approaches for fellow equal opportunity cookie lovers out there.

First up, a crisp, buttery, slightly crumbly rendition speckled with bittersweet chunks of chocolate. Perfect to accompany a cup of tea or coffee, they strike me as the perfect treat to power a last-minute study session. Indulgent yet refined, they’re the sort of peanut butter cookies that could effortlessly transition from a standard snack time munch to elegant after dinner offering.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have these soft, chewy, and utterly crave-worthy cookies which conceal a stunning list of healthy qualifications. Created for a demo at the Honolulu YMCA on healthy vegan baking, these beauties are soy-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and if you ask me, entirely guilt-free! Best of all, these babies can be whipped up in a flash, with pantry staples that I always keep on hand.

You can’t go wrong with either peanut-packed delight. The hardest part will be deciding which to bake first!

Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
3/4 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Cornstarch or Potato Starch
1/2 Cup Bittersweet Chocolate Chunks or Chips

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or pieces of parchment paper.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the Earth Balance and peanut butter at medium speed until perfectly smooth and homogeneous. Add in the brown sugar, salt, and vanilla, mixing briefly to incorporate. Gradually introduce the flour and cornstarch to the mixture, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl and ensure there are no lumps remaining. Mix just enough to fully integrate all of the dry goods. Lastly, stir in the chocolate by hand.

Turn the cookie dough out onto a lightly floured, cool surface and roll out to about 1/8 – 1/4 inch in thickness. Sprinkle additional flour over the top of the dough if it threatens to stick to the rolling pin. Use 2-inch round fluted cookie cutters, or any comparably sized shape, and punch out as many cookies as possible. Transfer them to your prepared baking sheets, spaced about 1/2 inch apart. Gather up the scraps, re-roll, and repeat until all the dough is used up.

Bake for 13 – 16 minutes, until just barely golden brown around the edges. Let the cookies finish cooling on the sheets, where they will continue to crisp as they reach room temperature. Once completely cool, store in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks.

About 3 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe

Healthy Peanut Butter Cookies

1 Cup All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

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

Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a small bowl and set aside. In a separate, larger bowl, use a sturdy spatula to mix the peanut butter, agave, oil, and vanilla, stirring until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous. Add in the dry ingredients and stir until fully incorporated, being careful not to overwork the dough.

Use a spoon to scoop out 1 – 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie and drop each ball on your prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 1 inch of space in between. Use a fork to press a crisscross pattern into the top of the raw cookies, flattening them out slightly at the same time. If the dough sticks to the fork, very lightly grease the tines before proceeding.

Bake for 8 – 12 minutes, until just golden around the edges. Let cool completely before enjoying or storing in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Makes 1 – 1 1/2 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Healthy Decadence

There’s a real art in finding the delicate balance between want and need, sweet and savory, austere and indulgent. All too often battling cravings that fall on the more hedonistic side of the scale, reaching some semblance of middle ground is especially important for this constant snacker. Grazing through my day with the greatest of ease, finding that ideal combination that will satisfy both my sweet tooth and my hunger is always the goal, but rarely the result of endless pantry raids throughout the day.

Inspired by yet another excellent new protein powder kindly provided as a sample by Ka’Chava, rather than just drink my superfoods straight, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get in the kitchen and play around. Energy bars were a natural first though, but too obvious, too easy to get excited about. Healthy, protein-packed fudge, though? Now that’s a wholesome treat one could lust after.

Rich, but not overwhelmingly so, crunchy cacao nibs punctuate the soft texture, much like chocolate chips strewn through unbaked cookie dough. A thin sheet of dark, slightly bitter chocolate caps off each small square with just the right extra dose of decadence, although it’s strictly optional if you’re more of a protein purist. Eaten straight out of the fridge, there are few tastier yet still healthy tidbits out there that can power me through a long day.

Protein Fudge

1 Cup Raw Cashews, Soaked for 4 – 6 Hours
1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
1/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
1 Packet (58.5g) Ka’Chava Chocolate Protein Powder
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs

To Finish:

3 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon Coconut Oil, Melted

Thoroughly drain your cashews before tossing them into your blender. A high-speed blender is recommended for this recipe to ensure the smoothest texture possible, but as long as you’re patient with a lower-powered model and let it process for a bit longer, the recipe shouldn’t suffer. Add in the melted coconut oil, coconut sugar, protein powder, vanilla, and salt, and start the machine on the lowest setting to begin breaking down the cashews. Slowly increase the speed until you reach the highest setting, using the plunger to keep the contents of the blender all moving towards the blade, or pausing to scrape down the sides of the container, as needed. It may take some time for everything to combine smoothly, without any residual cashew pieces or graininess to be found.

Meanwhile, line an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan with foil, lightly grease, and set aside.

Once your fudge mixture is thoroughly blended, stir in the cacao nibs by hand to evenly distribute them throughout. Transfer everything to your prepared pan and use a wide spatula to smooth out the top. Place the pan on a flat surface in your freezer to begin solidifying.

To finish off your fudge, place the finely chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe dish and heat for 60 seconds. Stir thoroughly until all of the chocolate is melted and no pieces remain. If necessary, continue microwaving at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well after each one, until perfectly smooth. Retrieve the fudge from the freezer, pour the melted chocolate all over the top, and spread it out evenly so that it covers the entire pan. Return the pan of fudge to the freezer and let rest, undisturbed, for at least 3 hours.

Using the foil as a sling, pull the fudge out of the loaf pan and slice into small squares with a very sharp knife. To make cleaner cuts through the chocolate topping, first run the knife under very hot water and dry thoroughly before making your first incision.

Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes 16 – 20 Small Squares

Printable Recipe


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Savory Saturday: Fine Dining

Hearts of Palm Salad from Nobu

Tofu Sashimi from Nobu

Mushroom Tobanyaki from Nobu

Zucchini Unagi (Cauli-Rice, Shiso, Lotus Root) from Greens & Vines

Zucchini Noodles with Macadamia Nut Pesto and Local Tomatoes from Greens & Vines

Sugarland Farms Watermelon (Thai Style Garlic Chili Vinaigrette, Nalo Herbs, Cucumber, Puffed Rice) from Roy’s


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Have Protein, Will Travel

In a food paradise as diverse and accessible as Honolulu, it seems like a crime to even consider packing the standard “emergency” food that covers the standard range of granola bars and protein shakes. Vegan options exist almost anywhere you go, even where you’d least expect it. That’s why I was surprised by just how handy my little packets of Amazing Meal, made by powdered greens-pusher Amazing Grass, proved to be in no time at all.

Compared to my non-existent activity level at home, walking miles across town every day felt like training for the Olympics. Even with my voracious appetite for eating out, trying new restaurants, and cooking as much exotic produce I could get my hands on, I still found my energy levels dipping severely come midday. Rather than relying the standard quick fix from a cup of coffee, the Cafe Mocha superfood blend was genuinely revitalizing, and without any jitters of course. The vaguely greenish hue is the only hint of the goodness packed within each glass. Trust me, I won’t willingly drink any swampy protein powders that can only be described as tasting healthy at best, and it was no struggle to drain my cup. Head and shoulders above most dried greens blends even when mixed with only cold water, the light cocoa flavor gives way to a hint of coffee, very gently sweetened to round out the flavors. No, it’s not something you would mistake for a decadent milkshake, but it’s far tastier than most healthy powdered drinks on the market. For a quick energy infusion on the go, I’m very grateful to have these slim packets in my bag, just in case.


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Back to Baking

Is the coast clear yet? Has the holiday sugar overload and palate fatigue worn off? Have the chronic dieters lost their New Year’s resolve? I sure hope so, because I’ve got one killer dessert recipe burning a hole in my archives and I don’t think I can’t wait to share it much longer. Never mind the terrible picture, because this one has inner beauty hidden within every fold.

Singing out with the depth and soul that only dark, sticky molasses can bring to the table, these are not your average plain Jane cinnamon rolls. Boldly spiced with ginger taking the clear lead, cinnamon is still invited to the party of course, but no longer the sole center of attention. It’s finally time for the rest of the well-seasoned entourage to shine, with all their lively, distinctive degrees of warmth on full display. Gingerbread may be most closely associated with the holidays, but if you ask me, that flavor bomb of a spice blend never goes out of style.

With all that goodness contained within the very foundation of the buns, what more could one possibly think of rolling up inside? All it takes is a simple combination of lemon and sugar to really push each yeasted spiral over the top. Brightening up breakfast, dessert, or snack time with a zesty contrast to those darker, richer tastes, any citrus fruit could make for an equally irresistible addition. Don’t stop at dabbling with just orange or lime zest- Tangerine, grapefruit, or even finely chopped kumquats sound pretty tempting, too.

Gingerbread Lemon Buns

Gingerbread Dough:

1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Cube Fresh Yeast or 1 (1/4-Ounce) Packet Active Dry Yeast
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Molasses
2 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Pinch Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
3 – 3 1/2 Cups All-Purpose flour
1 Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Lemon-Sugar Filling:

3 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1 Cup Granulated sugar
Zest of 1 Lemon

Heat the non-dairy milk of your choice in a microwave safe bowl for just a minute to warm, but do not bring it to a boil. Stir in the yeast and let is sit for about 5 minutes until frothy and active. Once re-awakened, pour the yeast mixture into your stand mixer, along with the sugar, oil, and molasses. Mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the first 3 cups of flour, spices, wheat gluten (if using), plus the salt. Make sure that all the dry goods are thoroughly distributed and there are no large pockets of unblended spices remaining. Add the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet, and beginning at the lowest speed, use the dough hook to slowly combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to keep everything incorporated, until the dough forms a cohesive ball. If it still seems excessively wet, add up to 1/2 cup of flour.

Let the mixer continue to knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. You could also knead it by hand; just take 15 minutes to do so instead. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic, and let rest in a warm area for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and turn it out on to a well-floured surface. Roll it out into a rectangle of about 14 x 18 inches. Brush generously with the melted margarine. Combine the sugar and zest in a small bowl before sprinkling the mixture evenly over the entire surface. Starting from one of the shorter ends, roll the rectangle up as tightly as possible, pinching the seam shut when you reach the other end.

Use a very sharp knife to cut the roll into approximately 1 1/2-inch pieces. Fit them into a lightly grease 9 x 9-inch pan, spacing them as evenly as possible. Begin preheating your oven at this point to 350 degrees, and allow the rolls to rise for 45 – 60 minutes before sliding them into the hot oven.

Bake for 25 – 35 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before digging in.

Makes 9 – 12 Buns

Printable Recipe


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Da Vegan Kine Grindz

Hawaii is host to its fair share of truly outstanding vegan eateries, to say nothing of the countless veggie-friendly establishments that make room at the table for everyone. What you don’t hear about though are the vast offerings of plant-based delights just beyond the beaten path. Navigating through the immense dining scene in Honolulu has led me to many unexpected but delicious discoveries, in places that don’t necessarily cater to vegans. If you’re traveling with omnivores, in search of more “authentic” local eats, or just craving something different, here are just a few of the quick and easy accidentally vegan snacks I’ve stumbled across so far. These can be found throughout the entire island, but I’ve provided a few suggestions for my favorite haunts. No matter the place or time, the key to any happy culinary exploration is to always ask questions!

Shave Ice

The classic beach-going Hawaiian treat, perfect for a hot day- Which is pretty much every day here, even in the dead of winter. Every stand carries a literal rainbow of sugar-based syrups to douse mountains of crushed ice with, so sticking with the basics still leaves you with dozens of flavors to choose from. Waiola Shave Ice and Matsumoto’s Shave ice remain local favorites, but for my tastes, Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha is the one to beat. Where else will you find kale-spinach shave ice and house-made sweetened adzuki beans, no less?

(Cautions: Avoid “creamy” flavors and ice cream toppings.)

Snow Ice

A distinct and entirely different dessert than shave ice, snow ice is also a sweet frozen snack, but made of paper-thin ribbons of ice flakes already infused with flavor, no syrup required. This creates a sensational, light texture that’s incredibly easy to eat, even after a big meal. The technique actually comes from Taiwan but has taken root in Hawaii, particularly in downtown Honolulu. Frostcity is a small chain that always offers at least three or four vegan flavors on any given day.

(Cautions: Always seek out plain fruit flavors and ask about the base; it’s often made with dairy. If the proprietor can’t confirm or deny, assume the worst.)

Edamame & Soybean Poke

A popular pupu (appetizer) at dives and fine dining establishments alike, seasonings start at the most basic sprinkle of sea salt but these humble bean pods are rarely requested so plain. Garlic edamame, studded with plentiful chunks of coarsely minced garlic guarantee you the most powerful but worthwhile dragon breath you’ve ever experienced. Spicy (or sweet-and-spicy) edamame adds either crushed red pepper flakes or a drizzle of sriracha into the mix. It’s a real treat when you can find them dressed up poke-style, in sesame oil, soy sauce, scallions, and sliced sweet onions. The beans pictured above are a specialty from the newly opened Izakaya Torae Torae: Teriyaki truffle edamame.

(Cautions: Garlic edamame are sometimes sauteed in butter, and Asian variants can occasionally include a splash of fish sauce. Ask if you have any doubts.)

Boiled Peanuts

Hailing from China and not the Southern US, Hawaiian boiled peanuts are often enhanced with a hint of star anise around here, but are just as frequently prepared with nothing more than salt and water. Found in poke shops and the deli section of most supermarkets, these tender, toothsome goobers always satisfy and are absolutely dirt-cheap. I have yet to meet a boiled peanut that disagreed with me, but I hear that the best come from Alicia’s Market.

(Cautions: None! These are always a safe and tasty option.)

Crack Seed

Another Chinese import, crack seed is a category of snack that covers all sorts of preserved fruits, some dried and some wet, that typically have a pronounced sweet, sour, and salty taste. Crack seed stores also carry salty snacks like mochi balls and shoyu peanuts, in addition to regular dried fruits and fruity candies. Big glass apothecary jars line the floors and walls of these closet-sized spaces and everything is bought by the 1/4, 1/2, or full pound. If you ask very nicely, most store keepers will give you little tastes to try before you buy.

(Cautions: Just about all of the traditional crack seed options are coated with li hing mui powder, which contains aspartame. Proceed at your own risk.)

Musubi

Also known in some parts as onigiri, the core of these versatile snacks is made up of tightly packed sushi rice, wrapped up in toasted nori. These plain offerings are good lunchbox filler, albeit unexciting in the flavor department. Common veggie-friendly variants that are readily available in bento shops and even convenience stores include fillings made up of kombu, umeboshi, and takuan. These staples will pop up frequently at Shirokiya and yes, even select 7-Eleven stores. Spam musubi are hands-down the top sellers around here, and you may be happily surprised to find a number of vegan renditions scattered across Oahu. Blue Tree Cafe and Peace Cafe, for starters, both have their own tofu-based take on the classic.

(Cautions: 90% of the traditional fillings you’ll come across are fishy and/or meaty, so make sure you read labels and signs carefully.)

Acai Bowls

Imagine an acai-banana smoothie thick enough to eat with a spoon that’s topped with granola and sliced bananas, and you’d have yourself a genuine acai bowl. Ice is usually added into the blend for additional bulk and cooling power, and each shop switches up the fruit inclusions and toppings. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a whole salad of blueberries, strawberries, kiwis, and maybe even coconut flakes crowning your icy creation, but even the paired down renditions are worth trying. You really can’t go wrong with this blend, but I’m quite partial to Jewel or Juice‘s regular acai bowl, which is less sweet than many mainstream formulas.

(Cautions: Honey is one of the default toppings, so always ask for your bowl without.)

And to think, I’m just getting started here! Who knows how many other hidden edible treasures are still out there, just waiting to be discovered? The only way to find out is to start searching, so get out there, explore, and taste Oahu!

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