BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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A Whole Lava Love

Pastry chefs, restaurateurs, and seasoned eaters the world over groan with a deliberate roll of the eyes as the dessert menu lands on their tables. Invariably, no matter the cuisine, listed there amongst the sweet offerings will be the classic chocolate lava cake. No one can begrudge the treat for its flavor, as chocolate boasts a nearly universal approval rate across all dining demographics, but it simply seems like the default, stock answer to the question a lazy cook doesn’t want to address. To continually make such an obvious culinary faux-pas, whoever is at the helm in the kitchen must be terribly uncreative, tone-deaf, or simply apathetic about the meal’s final course. We can all agree that there are few innovations to be found in this antiquated cake, despite the richest, most flowery printed descriptions.

So why do they keep turning up around every dining room corner, and better yet, why do we keep ordering them? For all our claims of being adventurous eaters, open to new, sometimes risky flavor pairings, the attraction to tried-and-true chocolate decadence is simply irresistible. Whether you’ve indulged in one lava cake or 80 in your lifetime, it just doesn’t get old.

Putting food snobbery aside and conceding that there are far worse ways to end a meal, it becomes clear that the real issue isn’t necessarily the sheer number of molten chocolate cakes, but the number of poorly executed renditions. There’s still plenty of room for improvement.

My inspiration to revisit the original, antiquated recipe came from an unlikely source. Protein powder and downright hedonistic desserts are hardly a natural combination, but from one sip of the newly released Natural Whipped Chocolate protein powder by Pro(Zero), I knew it wasn’t so far fetched. Not only did this highly nutritious base help to foster the perfect gooey interior texture, but its natural thickening powers abolished the need for any gluten at all.

There’s no shame in falling for these babycakes containing a rich pool of hot chocolate lava, especially when they deliver a surprising punch of protein and fiber, too.

Molten Mocha Protein Cakes

2 Ounces (1/3 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Whipped Chocolate Protein Powder
3 Tablespoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Instant Espresso Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Baking Powder

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and lightly grease 4 standard muffin cups. Fill the remaining 2 in the pan halfway with room temperature water; set aside.

Place the chocolate chips in a medium, microwave-safe bowl along with the aquafaba and oil. Heat for 30 – 60 seconds, stirring thoroughly until the chocolate has completely melted. Add in the protein powder, sugar, espresso powder, salt, and baking powder, mixing well, being sure to beat out any clumps. The batter should be smooth and fairly thick.

Divide the batter equally between your four prepared muffin cups and gently slide the pan into the oven. Bake for just 7 – 8 minutes, no matter how under-baked they may look. The sides should be firm, but the centers will remain soft and may fall slightly as they rest. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes before carefully pouring out the water from the empty tins. Invert the whole pan over cutting board a or large, flat plate before transferring them to individual dessert plates. Serve immediately while still warm.

Makes 4 Small Cakes

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by HPN Supplements, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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The Scarcity Fallacy

Well beyond the distraction of holiday merriment, winter stretches out as far as the eye can see, like an interminable ocean that surpasses the horizon. We’re in it for the long haul, no safe havens to moor our ships for the night, completely at the mercy of a historically mercurial season. No longer are we reliant on stockpiles of homemade preserves and canned goods, but fresh produce is considerably less diverse, or at least, anything grown nearby and worth eating offers fewer inspiring options. Even in balmy California, farmers market tables once straining under the weight of plump tomatoes and juicy peaches look comparatively sparse, bearing dusty tubers and hearty greens instead.

It’s a rough transition, no doubt about that, but great abundance can still be found even in the depths of winter. A far cry from the scarcity faced by the average cook only a few decades back, the danger isn’t that one might go hungry, but that one might go with a boring dinner. Oh, such terrible sacrifices we must make!

Instead of seeing what the local markets lack, it’s just as easy to see what they have to offer. With an open mind and a pinch of creativity, cravings that once seemed impossible to fulfill now appear ripe with potential for innovation.

Tabbouleh is a staple dish when the weather turns warm, the simplest combination of fresh ingredients that absolutely screams “summer!” in every refreshing bite. Tomatoes and parsley make up the foundation, with a handful of cracked wheat acting as the mortar holding everything together. It’s the kind of combination that needs no formal recipe, depending entirely on the strength of those bare components to shine. I’d never dream of making tabbouleh in winter, when only mealy pink tomatoes shipped halfway across the globe can be found rotting on grocery store shelves. No, not traditional tabbouleh…

…But I would make tabbouleh built with some crafty seasonal substitutions in mind. Bear with me, because I know that it’s not a natural leap to replace tomatoes with persimmons, but it makes perfect sense the moment you taste them in this light, leafy salad. Their juicy, meaty texture and natural sweetness add volumes of complexity to the basic composition, elevating the final product to a truly noteworthy side. Pomegranate arils follow to lend tart, crunchy bursts of flavor, echoing the bright lemon juice and balancing the bitter greens. Parsley could be the sole herbaceous element if you so desire, but in an homage to the abundance of root vegetables and in protest of food waste, I felt compelled to toss in those unloved green carrot tops that are all too often discarded, rather than savored as they should be.

Even the longest winter can feel far more manageable with a good supply of fresh, simple recipes on hand. There’s definitely a time and a place for the heavy soups and stews typically associated with the season, but a bit of lightness and brightness goes a long way when there’s no sun, and little local produce, to make up the difference.

Winter Tabbouleh

1/4 Cup Bulgur
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/2 Cup Vegetable Broth
1 Fuyu Persimmon, Peeled, Stemmed, and Chopped
1/3 Cup Pomegranate Arils (Optional)
1 1/2 Cups Carrot Tops, Minced
1 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced
2 Tablespoons Red Onion, Finely Chopped
2 – 3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 – 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

In a small saucepan, combine the bulgur wheat, turmeric, and vegetable broth, and place over low heat. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off the heat, and let stand for 15 – 20 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

Meanwhile, prepare the fruits and vegetables accordingly and toss together in a large bowl. Add the cooked bulgur when finished and slightly cooled, followed by the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, adding more or less according to personal preference.

Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the flavors to marry.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Running Wild and in the Gnude

Never have I met a group of people more enthusiastic about an ominous forecast calling for relentless days of rain, varying from light mists to pounding torrents. After waiting with baited breath for the El Niño predicted to put all other storms to shame, the entire state of California seems to breathe a sigh of relief with every drop of moisture returning back to the parched earth. Cautious optimism prevents anyone from suggesting that our water woes are a thing of the past, or that reservoirs are even remotely close to normal levels yet, but the subject is no longer so fraught with doom and gloom, despite the lack of sun. We all know just how important these rains are to fortify all the local farms both big and small, responsible for producing no less than 99% of the entire country’s artichokes, walnuts, and kiwis, just for starters. What fewer are aware of is the positive impact the precipitation is having on a much smaller, less cultivated crop; mushrooms.

Mushroom foraging is a hit-or-miss affair, unpredictable in the best situations. Aside from the poisonous potential of picking the wrong fungus, the intrepid adventurer risks disappointment on every outing, no matter their level of expertise. Mushrooms love damp, but not cold, and cool, but not wet weather, which makes this season their time to shine. Springing forth under the cover of fallen leaves and the fallen trunks of trees, finding these edible treasures is like a grownup version of hide-and-go-seek, although the seeker doesn’t know exactly what might be hiding, complicating the game quite a bit. The good news is that as long as it doesn’t kill you, every mushroom has incredible culinary potential, stuffed to the gills with deep, nuanced, and entirely unique umami flavors, simply waiting to be unleashed.

Such a lavish assortment of wild mushrooms should be celebrated in dishes that will feature their savory character and meaty texture to the fullest.

Gnudi, best described as naked ravioli, also share similarities with gnocchi but are made with ricotta instead of potato. Simple in concept yet spectacular in execution, they’re like little cheesy pillows that practically melt in your mouth. Bound together with just enough flour to hold their shapes, these are nothing like the dense balls of dough one might otherwise encounter when attempting to eat traditional dumplings. In this case, tofu ricotta easily replaces the dairy foundation, transforming this savory dish into a light, dreamy, and yet impossibly rich indulgence. It’s all thanks to those humble mushrooms.

If you’re lucky enough to have the right terrain and ideal conditions, get out there while the fungus is good! For everyone else, hit up the nearest grocery store and start foraging through the produce aisle instead. It may not be so wild, but let’s be honest: Any mushroom will still be delicious.

Gnudi with Wild Mushrooms

Tofu Ricotta Gnudi:

1 Pound Extra-Firm Tofu, Thoroughly Drained and Rinsed
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Water
All-Purpose Flour*, to Coat

Sauteed Wild Mushrooms:

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Small Shallots, Finely Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Pound Fresh Wild (or Cultivated) Mushrooms (Such as Crimini, Oyster, Shiitake), Sliced
1 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
3/4 Cup Mushroom or Vegetable Broth
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Fresh Parsley, Minced

*For a gluten-free version, try using white rice flour or sorghum flour instead.

Crumble the tofu into a large bowl and add all the rest of the ingredients for the gnudi, except for the flour. Don’t be afraid to get dirty, because the best way to mix this is to get in there with your hands! Combine everything thoroughly, further breaking down the tofu so that no large chunks remain, and the overall texture of the mixture is something akin to smooth cottage cheese. Move the bowl into the fridge and chill for 15 – 30 minutes before proceeding.

Bring a large of water up to a gentle simmer. It’s very important that the water is not boiling, because the gnudi are too delicate to withstand that sort of violence. Using a small cookie scoop or two spoons, form the chilled gnudi mixture into about 24 balls, tossing them gently in flour to coat. Carefully slide 5 or 6 balls into the simmering water at a time to prevent the pot from getting too crowded. Simmer for 2 – 3 minutes, or until cooked through. Lift out with a slotted spoon and repeat with the remaining gnudi. The gnudi can be made in advance up to this point and kept for up to 4 hours in the fridge.

When ready to serve, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and sautée until golden brown. Introduce the sliced mushrooms, dried herbs, and broth next, cooking until softened and highly aromatic; about 5 minutes. Add the gnudi, gently tossing to incorporate and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until gnudi are heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with fresh parsley, and enjoy immediately.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Leave the Dairy, Take the Cannoli

After fourteen years of veganism and a lifetime of lactose intolerance, cow’s milk doesn’t pose even the slightest temptation, no matter the myriad forms it may take. That commitment is effortless not simply due to habitual avoidance, however, but because the alternatives are now more readily available and more delicious than ever. So Delicious, in fact.

Dumping dairy isn’t a challenge when you already have luscious frozen desserts and rich, creamy beverages on your side, so the call to take part in the So Delicious Dairy Free 21 Day Dairy-Free Challenge sounds like a real non-dairy cakewalk to me. Whether you’ve been committed to a lactose-free life for years or have merely dabbled with the concept, consider joining the Facebook group for a chance to win some fabulous prizes! Leading up to and throughout the event, from January 21st through February 10th, there will be giveaways for gift cards, food kits, and even a trip for two to Boulder, Colorado.

Like the smoking gun of The Godfather, all forms of dairy can easily become part of a regrettable past, replaced by the immediate gratification of the sweet, simple cannoli. The overwhelming urge to take comfort in familiar flavors, childhood treats, or downright decadent indulgences can drive the average person to commit unspeakable culinary sins, despite the best intentions, but one needn’t return to a life of crime for satisfaction. Cannoli were always the greatest treat if in the nearby vicinity of an Italian bakery, since no one in my household would have dared fire up a vat of hot oil to fry and fabricate the shells from scratch. Without that edible container, there was no pastry altogether- Or so I thought.

Believe it or not, after tireless taste tests, standard waffle ice cream cones have proven themselves as highly satisfying substitutes, every bit as crisp and crunchy, and far less greasy, to boot. In place of the typically heavy mascarpone filling, a combination of Greek-style coconut yogurt and airy CocoWhip commingle to create an effortless mousse. Light as a cloud while still possessing that same characteristic tang of traditional cultured dairy, this barely sweetened filling comes together in a matter of minutes. That’s fast enough to strike down any craving in its tracks.

Let’s be honest: This is the least challenging “challenge” on the internet, and if you’ve ever spent time trolling YouTube videos, you’ll know that’s really saying something. Whether you join in on the fun or not, you would be doing yourself a disservice not to try these fun faux-cannoli. You’ve got nothing to lose, except any residual attachment to dairy products!

Cannoli Cones

“Mascarpone” Mousse Filling:

1 6-Ounce Container Plain Greek Cultured Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon White Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
4.5 Ounces (Half a Container) CocoWhip Original

Assembly:

8 – 10 Ice Cream Cones
3 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/3 Cup Toasted Pistachios, Roughly Chopped (Optional)

To make the mousse filling, mix together the yogurt, sugar, miso, nutritional yeast, and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir until fully combined and completely smooth. Add in a few dollops of the Coco whip at a time, using a wide spatula to gently fold it into the mixture. Be careful not to beat all the structure out of it to keep the filling light and airy. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to serve, and for up to a week.

To finish the cannoli assembly, place the chocolate in a microwave safe contain and heat for 30 – 60 seconds, stirring thoroughly until the chocolate has completely melted. Dip the tops of the waffle cones into the liquid chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off, and carefully stand them in tall, narrow glasses to dry upright.

To serve, simply pipe, spoon, or scoop the chilled mousse into your cones and top each with a sprinkle of toasted pistachios. Enjoy!

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by So Delicious, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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Blender Bender

To anyone who’s ever eyed their rapidly growing collection of kitchen equipment and shrinking counter space with dismay, there comes a point when only the most essential tools can still make the cut. A blender will always be at the top of that list, but even so, are you really making the most of it? Wonder no more, because The Blender Girl Cookbook by Tess Masters will keep you happily spinning away from breakfast to dinner, and everything in between. Tess is the unrivaled guru of all things blended, blitzed, and pureed as far as I’m concerned, which makes it all the more shameful that I’ve withheld a proper review of this book for nearly two years. Her blog is an invaluable resource for eaters of all tastes and cooks of all skill levels. She understands the zen of a spinning blade like no one else I’ve met, combining her expert knowledge with a trained palate and penchant for crafting unique recipes. I never feel as though I could do proper justice to all her skills, but instead of sitting this review for another year or worse, I hope this small sample of my experiences might inspire others to go out and try more for themselves.

When my enthusiasm for a mango sale left me with a considerable surplus, I turned to Tess for some suggestions. A smoothie would have been too obvious, too ordinary, so the Magic Mango Massage salad immediately caught my eye as an intriguing approach to managing this embarrassing excess. Though it didn’t strike me as a necessarily harmonious pairing on paper, the fruits’ naturally sour edge matches the gentle bitterness of the dark leafy greens beautifully. Light, sprightly herbal notes add freshness while the tangy, spicy dressing, tempered by the sweet mango chunks and creamy avocado, completes the picture with a flourish. Simple but so well balanced, the whole assembly is a shining example of what ordinary ingredients can do when combined in just the right proportions.

Goma Dofu, a study in subtlety and a delicacy when correctly executed, is done proper justice by this easy recipe. It ultimately comes down to only 3 main ingredients when all told: tahini, vegetable stock, and kuzu starch. Wobbling like a softly set custard, its unassuming appearance belies rich sesame flavor. Nuances of umami whisper gently throughout, leaving the lucky eater with a surprisingly rich impression. Creamy, cool, and refreshing, it would be an ideal appetizer to enjoy on a hot day.

Though the juicing trend has failed to spark my interest, to say the least, I can still fully appreciate a tall glass of vegetable juice when the mood strikes. Thus I found myself drawn to the Spicy Gazpacho Grab, which is really more of a sippable soup than a thin, unfulfilling drink. This ruby red elixir sparkles with just the right accent of spice, reminiscent of V-8, only so much brighter and bolder. Both thirst-quenching and satisfying, I would even be tempted to leave the blend slightly chunky next time around, serving just as I would for the traditional chilled tomato soup.

If The Blender Girl Cookbook doesn’t restore your blender to a place of honor in your kitchen, nothing will. Since publication, Tess hasn’t stopped dreaming up new recipes for even a minute, unleashing a full book focused on smoothies and a companion app as well, with no sign of slowing down. Rumor has it that another cookbook is in the pipeline as we speak. In the meantime though, this wealth of fool-proof formulas will keep me blending smoothly for months, if not years, to come.


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Play Second Fideo to None

Winter in California looks very different from the winters of my childhood. Instead of the white wonderland I’d peer out at from my bedroom window, blankets of snow magically transforming the landscape into a brave new world, the scenery out here remains largely unchanged. Colder but not freezing, darker but not unshakably gloomy, the days of this season proceed much like those that came before, and will no doubt come once again. The key difference, however, is the rain.

You’re not allowed to complain about any amount of precipitation, each minuscule drop of moisture deemed essential to refilling the depleted reservoirs. Even when the winds blow and the temperatures drop, turning a steady shower into a clammy midday swim through the city streets, it’s all good, or so we say through clenched teeth. Thank goodness for the rain, bring on more rain, let it continue to rain all month, but for the love of a higher power, please let me find a way to stay dry!

As a hapless pedestrian, this request is as impossible as it is foolish to put to words. There’s no way to avoid a drenching soak, even while sprinting away from the BART at top speed, umbrella unfurled overhead. By the time I make it to the shelter of my warm little shack, wet and tired as a rung out rag, it’s hard to muster the same veneer of enthusiasm for this kind of weather. This is a job for comfort food.

Referred to by some as “Mexican Spaghetti,” fideo is the simple sort of pasta dish that has nearly universal appeal thanks to both its flavor and ease of preparation. What’s not to love about toasted noodles infused with a pinch of cumin and a hint of rich tomatoes? Typically served dry as a side dish or flooded with broth as a soup, my preference falls somewhere in between; a thick stew of vegetables and pasta that could be eaten either with a spoon or a fork, depending on how long the noodles are cooked. Taking that concept just one step further, I realized I had a genuine risotto on my hands- Just without the rice.

Silky strands of broken spaghetti boast a uniquely nutty taste thanks to a quick saute before cooking, setting this dish apart from your average heap of pale pasta. Roasted peppers mingle amongst the short strands, harmonizing with the essences of smoked paprika and cumin to render a wholly warming, revitalizing bowl full of edible comfort. It’s a hair fancier than the original inspiration, but not much more fuss, and a whole lot more satisfying as far as I’m concerned.

Alright, bring on the rain! As long as I can come home to a revitalizing bowlful of fideo risotto, it’s really not such a bad deal.

Fideo Risotto

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
2 Cups (1/2 Pound) Broken or Cut Spaghetti
1/2 Large Red Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Roma Tomatoes, Diced
1 Poblano Pepper, Roasted, Seeded, and Diced
1 Red or Orange Bell Pepper, Roasted, Seeded, and Diced
3 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Broth
1 – 2 Tablespoon Tequila (Optional)
3 Tablespoons Lime Juice
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1 1/2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Cup Corn Kernels, Canned and Drained or Frozen and Thawed
1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Chopped
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
1/4 Cup Toasted Pepitas (Optional)

Place half of the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Once shimmering, add in the pasta and stir to coat. Saute the noodles, stirring frequently, until toasted and golden brown all over; 5 – 8 minutes. Remove the noodles from the pot and set aside.

Return the pot to the stove and add in the remaining oil. Cook the onions and garlic together until softened and aromatic. Introduce the tomatoes and both roasted peppers next, stirring periodically, and continuing to cook until the onion are lightly golden. Add the vegetable broth, tequila (if using), lime juice, nutritional yeast, paprika, and cumin.

Bring the liquid up to a boil before returning the toasted noodles to the pot. Stir well to incorporate, cover, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer gently until the pasta is tender and the liquid mostly absorbed; 9 – 11 minutes. Mix in the corn and fresh cilantro last right after taking the pot off the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top individual servings with a tablespoon or so of pepitas, if desired.

Serves 3 – 4 as a Main Dish

Printable Recipe

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