BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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By Bread (and Chocolate) Alone

As far as dietary sacrifices go, I can imagine far worse conditions than living by bread alone. Anyone who says otherwise must not know of the wonders of flour, water, and yeast, and the incredible range of flavors such a humble combination can produce. Of course, a smidgen of chocolate would turn the whole affair into a genuine treat rather than a trial, but the same could probably be said for any sort of cocoa-infused pairing.

Let’s keep this one short and to the point: If you like bread and/or chocolate, together or separately, this is a recipe you should take for a spin. Crunchy croutons take the place of bland wafer cookies in this classic no-bake bar cookie. Accented with chocolate and hazelnuts, the whole mixture is bound with a dark, toasty caramel. Finally, a touch of salt and pepper sets this unique treat apart.

Bread and Chocolate Slice

8 Ounces Fresh Baguette, Diced into Very Small Cubes (1/4 – 1/2 inch)
3 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Tablespoon Flaxseeds, Finely Ground
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1 Cup Toasted Hazelnuts
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Turbinado Sugar

5 Ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Coconut Oil
Flaky Sea Salt, Optional

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and have a baking sheet at the ready.

Slice the baguette into very small cubes, between 1/4 – 1/2 inch, as long as they’re equally to ensure that they’ll bake evenly. Toss the pieces with the olive oil, salt, and pepper until full coated, and then spread the bread out in one even layer on your waiting baking sheet. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely.

While the oven is still hot, place the hazelnuts in a small baking dish and slide them into the oven for 5 – 10, until lightly toasted and aromatic. Let them cool for about 5 minutes before rubbing them in a kitchen towel to remove the papery skins.

Measure out 3 cups of croutons and set them aside. Place the rest of them in your food processor along with the cocoa powder, ground flaxseeds, and cornstarch, and pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl along with the reserved whole croutons, skinned hazelnuts, and shredded coconut, stirring lightly to combine. Set aside.

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking dish with foil and lightly grease.

Combine the melted coconut oil and sugar in a medium saucepan over moderate heat on the stove. Resist the urge to stir again once the sugar has dissolved, swirling the pan gently instead to mix the contents. Bring to a boil and let cook until the sugar caramelizes and turns a deep amber color. Quickly pour the hot caramel into the bowl of dry ingredients, stir thoroughly to incorporate, and transfer the whole thing into your prepared pan, spreading it out into as flat a layer as possible.

Finally, mix together the chocolate and 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil in a small pitcher, and pour it all over the top of the bars while they’re still warm. Use a spatula to smooth it over and distribute it evenly across the whole pan. Sprinkle lightly with flaky sea salt if desired.

Let cool until the chocolate has set. Slice into bars and store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe


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An Easy Choice

Catching sight of the plain, perfectly ordinary manila envelope that arrived in the mail, I immediately grabbed the parcel out from under the stack of letters and magazines, and headed straight downtown. This one would take a big matcha latte and plenty of uninterrupted alone time to properly digest.

That’s because it’s nearly impossible to believe that I truly had a hand in creating this beautiful new cookbook, Choosing Raw by Gena Hamshaw. Of course I remember playing in the kitchen, creating these bright and cheerful compositions, and enjoying every single dish on deck, but it’s hard to connect that job with the brilliant end results. If my name hadn’t been printed right on the cover, bold and unmistakable, I would wonder if all those photo assignments had possibly been an incredible dream.

I’m not a raw foodist by any stretch of the imagination, but the beauty of Choosing Raw is that you don’t need to be. Gena makes these low- to no-cooking techniques accessible to eaters of all sorts, adding in cooked variations, demonstrating how truly flexible her fool-proof formulas are, time and again. Perhaps I’m biased, but all I can say is that my palate doesn’t lie, and I enjoyed every single thing pictured in this creative ode to healthy vegan eats. Flip through the glossy pages briefly and you’ll see that that’s quite a large, diverse cross section of the book.

I can’t even begin to describe how inspiring, mouth-watering, and well-written this cookbook is, and quite frankly, I don’t want you to just take my word for it either. I want you to taste it for your self! That’s why I’m thrilled to share a copy of Choosing Raw with one lucky reader. Hop on over to the Rafflecopter entry form to enter!

In case you’re still not convinced, Gena has a ton of recipes to sample on her blog. I do especially recommend the walnut and lentil tacos, which are especially well suited to these sultry last days of summer, but you can’t go wrong with any of Gena’s creations. From soup to nuts, quite literally, Choosing Raw offers healthy vegan cuisine made for mass appeal.


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The Sun Also Rises

To anyone who still maintains that vegans are missing out on the greatest pleasure in life, commonly referred to as cheese, I challenge you to open you eyes- and mouth- to the latest wave of dairy-free innovations. Just take a gander at the luxurious spread above, and try telling me about the lack of options with a straight face. We’ve got the mainstream, meltable cheeses covered and now gourmet, artisan options seem to be the final frontier. Consider that great unknown territory officially conquered, claimed in the name of SunRAWise. An upstart based in Florida, these cashew-based cheeses don’t play it safe, boasting bold flavorings and the authentic funky, fermented flavor that only hand-crafted, aged cheeses can categorically boast. Crumbly but moist texture, each compact round can be sliced or finely grated, to be served as a main attraction to pair with wine or compliment almost any dish.

I thought that the Spiru-lean was a dead ringer for blue cheese, but was surprised to see that SunRAWise also offers a wholly separate Vegan Blue Vein option, supposedly lighter in spirulina content, perhaps for those more sensitively to the very subtly grassy flavor of the blue-green algae. If given the choice, opt for the full-flavored deal. Make no mistake, I am not a fan of spirulina, and I absolutely loved each beautifully marbled wedge. Bearing a unique twang and gentle acidity while still maintaining an agreeably mild, umami flavor, it truly bears an uncanny resemblance to the genuine article. This is what has been missing on the marketplace for far too long, and if only the company could expand and increase distribution, it would surely take off like wild fire.

Brightly colored with turmeric, the sunny yellow Rosemary cheese bears equally luminous flavors to match its striking appearance. Although I’m a bit puzzled why this particular round would be tinted to quite such a florescent hue, looks aren’t everything; the real beauty is in its earthy, pine-tinged bite. Easy to enjoy but most difficult of the three to pair, rosemary is such a distinct flavor that it needs to remain the center of attention. Many common accompaniments proved discordant when invited to the party, so I ended up munching on this one mostly out of hand, in thick, savory slices. Oh, such a terrible sacrifice that was [not]!

Brazenly named Smoke and Spicy, this red-flecked, peppered cheese sounded like the perfect accent to brighten up some simple eggless mini quiches. Warm but balanced spice defines this variety, introducing surprising pops of heat when you least expect it, thanks to the abundant crushed red pepper flakes found throughout the round. The promise of smoke goes unfulfilled, too mild to be heard above the loud spicy baritone. That said, I still wouldn’t dream of suggesting a formula change, since those smoky notes undoubtedly contribute to the overall complexity that make this such an addictive option.

A cheese flavored with Italian Herbs is simply begging to be paired with a classic pasta dish, and so I obliged, with a simple serving of spaghetti and meatless meatballs to catch a shower of finely grated cashew cheese. That simple addition took this omnipresent entree to the next culinary level, leading with herbaceous notes of oregano. Beyond that first bite, the typically aggressive and potentially clashing herbs are so harmoniously blended, it’s difficult to pick out any individual players. That may not sound like a compliment, but considering how difficult it can be to get such strong tastes to play nicely, it shows true finesse in fabrication. That sort of complimentary flavor profile is one that can only be achieved with patience, as the aging process allows disparate notes to slowly meld and mellow together. This cheese gives me hope that many things really do get better with age!

These are not your garden-variety cashew cheeses, far more mature, complex, and consciously crafted than any other option I’ve enjoyed thus far. As a healthy sort of decadence, they’re the perfect treat to save for a special occasion. Invite a few savory wedges from SunRAWise to your next big celebration, and they’ll likely become the guests of honor.


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All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes

When it comes to the divide between sweet and savory, the line that separates the two is becoming thinner and more difficult to distinguish with every passing year. Palates are opening up, eaters from all walks of life are growing more adventurous, and chefs are gleefully pursuing their wildest culinary dreams. Such reckless innovation inevitably comes at a price, paid in disappointing or sometimes downright repulsive new tastes (I’m looking at you, cappuccino potato chips) but it’s a gamble well worth taking. In a world with such a vast array of flavors, there must still be countless winning combinations merely waiting to be discovered.

In my eyes, this one wasn’t such a stretch of the imagination. Tomato soup cakes have been around since the turn of the century as a thrifty way of making something sweet in the times of rationing. Originally dubbed “mystery cake” as a way of concealing the secret ingredient, perhaps acknowledging that unwitting diners might be scared off by the novel concept, the processed tomato product was merely an extender, filling in the bulk of the cake without using eggs, only to be covered up in heavy gingerbread-like spices. You’d never know there was ever a tomato present in the tender crumb, which is both the beauty and tragedy of this classic recipe.

Taking inspiration from these humble origins but with the desire to celebrate the bold, beautiful tomatoes now in season rather than bury them in an avalanche of sugar, it seemed high time to revisit the idea of a tomato cake. Now with 100% more tomato flavor! I can just picture the vintage advertisements and their hyperactive proclamations now.

Indeed, you can truly taste the tomato in these fiery red cupcakes. Not only that, but the unassuming beige frosting holds yet another surprise taste sensation: A tangy punch of balsamic vinegar, tempered by the sweetness of the rich and fluffy matrix that contains it. Trust me, it’s one of those crazy things that you’ve just got to taste to believe. Although it may sound like an edible acid burn, that small splash is just enough to brighten up the whole dessert.

While tomatoes are still at their peak, sweet as ever and available in abundance, now is the time to experiment and try something new. Don’t call it a secret ingredient this time around and finally let them shine when the dessert course rolls around.

Tomato Cakes with Balsamic Frosting

Tomato Cupcakes:

2 Cups Diced Fresh Tomatoes, Roughly Blended, or 1 14-Ounce Can Crushed Tomatoes
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed

1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Balsamic Frosting:

1/2 Cup Vegan Margarine
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Reduction
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Up to 1 Tablespoon Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 15 – 16 cupcake tins with papers.

Combine the blended (but not completely pureed) tomatoes, olive oil, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and set aside.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Make sure that all the dry goods are thoroughly distributed before adding in the wet ingredients. Mix everything together with a wide spatula, stirring just enough to bring the batter together and beat out any pockets of unincorporated dry ingredients. A few remaining lumps are just fine.

Distribute the batter between your prepared cupcake pans, filling them about 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 17 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly, with perhaps just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Do not wait for the tops to brown, because the centers will be thoroughly overcooked by then. Let cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, place the margarine in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat briefly to soften before adding in the confectioner’s sugar, balsamic glaze, and vanilla. Begin mixing on low speed until the sugar is mostly incorporated, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Turn the mixer up to high and slowly drizzle in non-dairy milk as needed to bring the whole mixture together. Continue whipping for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Apply to cupcakes as desired.

Makes 15 – 16 Cupcakes

Printable Recipe


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Home Grown Tomatoes


“A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins.”
Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”
Lewis Grizzard

“A cooked tomato is like a cooked oyster: ruined.”
Andre Simon, The Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy

“Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes
What would life be like without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love and home grown tomatoes.”
John Denver, Home Grown Tomatoes

(Photos taken at the first annual tomato tasting at Ambler Farm.)


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Summer’s Sweet Bounty

Much has been said of California cuisine, and as it remains a nebulous and often contentious concept at best, I won’t even begin to add my two cents to that short-changed conversation. Rather, I can’t help but marvel at the availability and variety of raw ingredients that make it all happen. It’s easy to see how a chef could be inspired to try anything once, maybe twice, when the basic components are all so accessible, to say nothing of their inherent flavor or beauty. Each trip to one of the many farmers markets is guaranteed to yield a cornucopia of edible inspiration. Where else can you find locally grown pistachios, two or three dozen distinctive varieties of peaches, and rainier cherries for an unbelievable price of $2 per pound, all in one place? San Francisco has developed a reputation as being a farm-to-table foodie’s paradise, and it sure is working hard to keep that title.

Of course, I took this opportunity to positively gorge myself on ripe seasonal fruits. The siren song of those soft, explosively juicy nectarines was impossible to resist, no matter how messy they were to eat. Apricots came home with me in aromatic, golden heaps, piled so high on the kitchen counter that it seemed impossible to eat them without aid. Somehow, I always managed.

That’s to say nothing of the berries. Despite missing out on the prime berry bounty, it was still a real treat to enjoy locally grown options, and at such bargain basement prices. As a little ode to my Californian summer, it was only fitting to gather up a small sampling of what I had on hand, along with the famed sourdough that beckons irresistibly in every reputable bakery’s store front. Fresh mint plucked straight from the tiny windowsill garden completed this little love note to my temporary, adoptive home state.

Light, fresh, fast, it’s the kind of recipe that depends entirely on the quality of your ingredients. Consider it as a serving suggestion; more of an idea than a specific schematic, to be tailored to whatever fruits are fresh and in season in your neck of the woods.

California Dreamin’ Panzanella

5 Cups Cubed Sourdough Bread
2 Cups Pitted and Halved Cherries
2 Cups Seedless Grapes
1 Cup Blackberries
1/4 Cup Zulka Sugar or Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Walnuts
Fresh Mint Leaves, Thinly Sliced

To Serve:

Coconut Whipped Cream (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spread your cubes of sourdough bread out on a baking sheet in one even layer and bake them for about 15 minutes, until golden and lightly toasted all over. Let cool completely before proceeding.

In a large bowl, toss together all of the fruits and remaining ingredients. Toss in the toasted bread, right before serving, last to ensure that it stays crisp. Mix thoroughly so that everything is well distributed and entirely coated with the sugar mixture. Enjoy immediately with a dollop of whipped coconut cream, if desired.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

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