BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Shake It Off

Oh sure, easy for you to say.

In lieu of a television, the quiet hum of online weather reports has begun to serve as a neutral white noise at times, filling the void of late nights when no other voices are available to keep me company. Focused on the east coast’s snowy predicament more often than not, it seems that the whole country would be talking about my hometown even if the radio’s dial had been set on frequencies emanating from thousands of miles in any direction. Most of the information goes straight through my consciousness, filtered out as just comforting, human sounds, but every now and then particular words stick in my consciousness.

Blizzards… Black ice… Power failures…

So isn’t it easy for me to implore the folks suffering out there to just “shake it off,” offering up a tropical smoothie with an insensitive veneer of enthusiasm? How could I, the traitor who skipped bail and fled my sentencing for a winter in balmy California, have anything constructive to add to this seasonal tale of misery and woe?

And yet, I can’t keep my mouth shut, or more accurately, my fingers still as they glide across the beguiling keyboard. As much as the native New Englander in me would love to grouse about the terrible and relentless snow storms with the rest of my family, I’m much more grateful that those crushing winter phenomenon are no longer a part of my personal experience. Instead, I have sunshine, relative warmth, and yes, an incredible bounty of local produce that manages to grow even now in mid February; an unheard of miracle for someone who would expect two feet of sludge to line the garden beds right about now.

What a luxury it is to have a nearby farmers market boasting an ample selection of my very favorite food in the entire world: Cherimoya. Most people scratch their heads when the fruit is mentioned, and I hesitate to bring it more attention for fear of limiting my own selfish hoard of the fruits. A pricy treat to be sure, it’s hard to justify doing anything with the creamy, custard-like flesh other than dig in with a spoon once it’s ripe. Every now and then, however, one might venture into the land of overripe, at which point the only the one can do is blend it up and drink it down instead. That’s where the idea to create a tropical shake came from, playing off the classic umbrella drink, the lava flow.

Fiery red rivulets of strawberry “lava” flow throughout the classic coconut-pineapple rendition of this refreshing island staple, finished with a kiss of light rum. The sweet, creamy richness of cherimoya transforms the drink into an exotic new experience, which is just as luscious with or without the booze.

So this is how I’m shaking off winter. I’m well aware that not everyone is, or can, but for those with the ability to greet winter under brighter skies, I would implore you to relish every last sip of it.

Cherimoya Lava Flow

Strawberry Lava Sauce:

1 Cup Strawberries, Fresh or Frozen and Thawed
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar or Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Lime Juice

Creamy Cherimoya Cocktail:

1 Medium Cherimoya*
1 Cup Diced Fresh Pineapple
1 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Light Rum**

*In lieu of fresh cherimoya, substitute either 1 medium banana or approximately 2/3 cup of young coconut meat for a different yet still delicious taste.
**For a non-alcoholic version, substitute an equal amount of pineapple juice.

Prepare the strawberry sauce first by combining the strawberries, sugar, and lime juice in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook gently for about 10 minutes, just until the berries have softened and the sugar dissolved. Transfer to your blender and thoroughly puree so that no chunks of fruit remain. Strain out the seeds if desired and set aside.

Rinse and dry your blender before returning it to its base. Slice the cherimoya in half and use a spoon to scoop out the soft white flesh, discarding the black seeds as you encounter them. Pop the cherimoya fruit into your blender, along with the pineapple, coconut milk, and 1/4 cup of rum. Blend on high speed until completely smooth. Add more rum to taste, depending on your preference.

Divide the cocktail base between two glasses and drizzle the strawberry “lava” into each one, aiming for the sides of the glass to create the greatest visual impact. Serve with a tall straw and an additional wedge of fresh pineapple for extra flare.

Makes 2 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Flipping Over Pancakes

A hallowed date with many names, there is all but one antiquated nickname that I can fully endorse, even as a nonsecular participant. Sorry, but the title of “Fat Tuesday” no longer fits the bill for modern times, especially when the moniker of “Pancake Tuesday” can be readily swapped in for a far more appealing and accurate label. Born of religious traditions that involve gorging oneself before the leaner days of lent, the celebratory aspect is the only piece I’m interested in, quite frankly. That’s to say nothing of how the so-called fat pancakes of yore bear little resemblance to the eggless, dairy-free flapjacks that grace my skillet today, which could run circles around those early butter-laden diet bombs. It’s no wonder that revelers would feel compelled to repent after such a gut-busting day of indulgence.

It’s time to leave those feelings of guilt and regret in the past. Pancakes are the star of the day and deserve to shine with fresh flavors, just like this punchy little short stack right here. Fluffy, lightly sweetened pillows that are no pushovers, equal parts flour and cornmeal contribute a heartier texture in addition to a subtly savory cornbread flavor. Juicy raspberries and crisp jalapenos dot the surface of each disk, making every bite both sweet and spicy. Although you could certainly cut one or the other out of the picture to simplify, especially if catering to a strong sweet tooth or salt tooth, the combination is positively invigorating, no matter what time of day you prefer to celebrate your pancakes.

Raspberry-Jalapeno Cornbread Pancakes

2/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2/3 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Fresh or Frozen and Thawed* Raspberries
1 Fresh Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely Diced

Additional Fresh Raspberries and Maple Syrup to Serve (Optional)

*If using frozen and thawed raspberries, just bear in mind that your pancakes will take on more of a pink hue overall, due to the excess juices. Try to drain the berries as best you can to mitigate the effects.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt, mixing thoroughly to both aerate and combine the ingredients. Separately, mix the oil, non-dairy milk, and vinegar before adding all of the liquids into the bowl of dry goods. Introduce the berries and jalapeno at the same time, stirring with a wide spatula to incorporate everything into the batter. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few lumps remaining, as it’s much better than running the risk of over-mixing and creating tough pancakes.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and very lightly grease the bottom. When hot, spoon about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan for each pancake, leaving a good amount of space in between so that there’s ample room for flipping. Lightly smooth out the tops to further round the shapes and even out any central peaks. Cook until bubbles appear all over the surface and the underside is golden brown. Flip with a spatula, and cook until equally browned on the other side.

Serve hot, topped with fresh berries and/or syrup if desired.

Makes About 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Soya with Aloha

Commonly regarded as merely a casual greeting, “Aloha” takes on an entirely different tone when spoken in Hawaii. The Aloha Spirit goes much deeper than surface pleasantries, and isn’t something that can be faked. It has to do with honesty, patience, and sharing, just for starters, which is why I can think of no company more aptly named than Aloha Tofu. Churning out soybean curds since 1950, the operation has always been a family business, focused on using high-quality ingredients while keeping the process as simple as possible. No added preservatives mean that none of the products are exported, meaning that they will always be solely local treasures. Luckily, these gems are easy to plunder, found in any grocery store worth its square footage on the island and of course, directly from their factory in Kalihi.

That’s where I met up with some of the most stunningly kind tofu-tamers imaginable. Although I happened to pick the one weekday where no production was actively taking place, they generously showed me around the storage room and gave me a good lay of the land. After refusing to take my money, I was loaded up with an embarrassment of soybean riches and sent back on my merry way.

Don’t let the brand name fool you- They make much more than just bean curd cakes in that unassuming downtown factory. In addition to okara, soymilk, and konnyaku, their natto could be considered something of a game changer, since almost all commercial varieties are frustratingly pre-seasoned with bonito dashi. Long ago I had given up on enjoying this admittedly polarizing pleasure, but Aloha Tofu’s delightfully slimy little number is 100% vegan, through and through. For the uninitiated, it’s generally a love or hate experience, with little space for ambiguity, although one of the best ways to ease into natto appreciation is with the aid of piping hot miso soup. The warm broth helps dissolve the stringy stickiness, while the miso paste pairs harmoniously with the funky, fermented whole soybean flavor. Even if you’ve found it hard to swallow before, a better brand can make all the difference in the world.

The classic dish recommended by the tofu masters themselves, however, is tofu poke. Their rendition adheres very closely to the traditional fish-based formula, substituting fried tofu cubes for the raw fish; a move that should appease those who can appreciate tofu well enough, but not so much that they care to eat it raw. The finished dish is sold in their brand new eatery, but since I didn’t have a chance to scope out that scene as well, I’m grateful that the full recipe is published on their website. No strings attached, no gimmicks or marketing ploys; just the desire to share their tofu and new ways to enjoy it. Now that’s the Aloha Spirit in action.

Tofu Poke
Recipe Ever So Slightly Adapted from Aloha Tofu

1 (12-Ounce Package) Deep Fried Tofu, Cut into Bite-Sized Cubes
1 Tomato, Diced
1/4 Cup Coarsely Chopped Ogo Limu*
1 – 2 Scallions, Chopped
1/4 Cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Teaspoons Toasted Sesame Seeds
1 Teaspoon Finely Minced Fresh Ginger
Pinch Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, to Taste

*Substitute with cooked hijiki if unavailable.

Like some of the best dishes, this one couldn’t be simpler to prepare. There’s no big secret here; simply toss the tofu, all of the chopped vegetables, and seasonings together in a large bowl to thoroughly distribute all of the ingredients and coat them with the marinade. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes before serving, or up to a day. Enjoy cold.

Makes 4 – 6 Side Dish Servings

Printable Recipe


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Rock the Boat

When it comes to food, little luxuries are not necessarily about overindulgence or decadence so much as they are small gifts you give yourself; modest treats to look forward to on an average day. Especially in the lean days of early January, it’s important to maintain these simple pleasures while everyone else seems to demand austerity, as if trying to atone for their holiday dietary sins. Luckily, it’s not difficult to reward yourself with something both sweet and healthy at the same time! Looking to the tropics for inspiration, a charming new juice shop in Honolulu offers papaya, re-imagined as a breakfast dish dressed beautifully enough to pass for dessert.

It’s far from a complex concept, but at The Salted Lemon, they’ve perfected the art of building an unsinkable papaya boat. Local orange and pink-hued fruits, more brilliant than a sunrise in paradise, are hollowed out and stuffed to the brim with granola, yogurt, banana slices, blueberries, and finished with a light shower of chia seeds on top. The contrast between creamy yogurt and crunchy cereal, flavored with the ripe and juicy fresh fruits, is so simple yet so satisfying. Eating this assembly is a rich experience that carries none of the guilt one might assign to traditional excess. Though the original is not vegan, the staff was more than willing to try something new, making use of my favorite almond-based yogurt once I snagged a cup at a nearby grocery store.

Lest you think that papaya boats are only the stuff of fancy cafes and languorous tropical vacations, just take a gander at the short and sweet formula below. They are effortless to whip up on any typical morning, no special occasion required, and no pretense need apply. All varieties of berries or cut fruits could be considered as welcome additions, so don’t be afraid to shake up the routine and experiment with new toppers.

While anything goes when it comes to vegan yogurt options, there’s no better brand to turn to than So Delicious, offering cultured coconut and almond bases, each boasting a full spectrum of enticing flavors. These prime alternatives make it a breeze to live dairy-free, which is why I wanted to share an equally easy concept as part of their 21-Day Dairy Free Challenge. Consider this your first step towards sweet, creamy satisfaction, and then join in on the initiative for even greater rewards!

Papaya Boats

1 Medium Hawaiian Papaya, Peeled and Seeded
1 Cup Granola, Homemade or Store-Bought
1 6-Ounce Container Vanilla So Delicious Almond or Coconut Yogurt
1 Medium Banana, Sliced
1/2 Cup Fresh Blueberries
1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds
Agave or Maple Syrup, to Taste (Optional)

Divide a 1/2 cup of the granola between two plates to set up a “foundation” for your papaya boat to rest on. This will help prevent it from capsizing when you eat it, and it also adds a nice additional layer of crunchy cereal to enjoy.

Place the remaining granola inside the papaya halves (1/4 cup inside of each) and top that with the yogurt, spooning equal amounts into the two boats. Arrange the sliced banana and blueberries as desired, and top with a sprinkle of chia seeds over the whole assembly. Finish with a light drizzle of syrup if desired, but with properly ripened, seasonal fruit, it should be plenty sweet enough without.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

Makes 2 Servings

Printable Recipe

[Written for Go Dairy Free as part of the Dairy-Free Recipe Potluck, sponsored by So Delicious.]


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Smart Sweets

Though self-prescribed with good intentions, a striking majority of New Year’s resolutions are imagined in a world of extremes. Everything is painted in black and white; there is success and failure, productivity and laziness, good or bad foods. The temptation to simplify the complex “rules” of the road is great for those most desperate for change, especially when so much mainstream advice points in that very direction. What excitement is there in moderation? How could you sell anything based on common sense?

Quite frankly, I’m sick of this all-or-nothing approach. Resolutions themselves are not the problem, but the way society holds us to them. Friends, I’m not expert on the matter, but if you want my advice, I think we should make a bit more room in this renewed healthy eating regimen for chocolate.

As with all healthy eating choices, quality is absolutely essential for success, which is exactly what Vega has built their reputation on. Though best known for their powdered protein and meal-replacement shakes, I was naturally drawn more to their enticing array of snacking selections. Given the opportunity to investigate these unsung heroes further, I knew from the start that it would somehow end in a deceptively decadent dessert. Maca Chocolate Bars provided the real inspiration, with their gently earthy, mineral-y quality and slightly bitter edge calling out for a touch more sweetness to round out the deep cacao flavors. Lovers of deep, dark, serious chocolate would love them as is, but for someone coming off of a holiday sugar high, I must admit that my palate calls for something a bit less intense.

Incorporating the brilliantly “Karamelized” SaviSeed, roasted and sugar-coated Inca peanuts, for a satisfying crunch, Nava Atlas’ fool-proof recipe for unbaked brownies seemed custom made for just these ingredients. A few easy substitutions yielded the tastiest, yet healthiest, raw brownie that has ever passed my lips. As the original formula proves, however, no specialty ingredients need apply; switch up the fruits, nuts, and chocolate for equally delicious treats that will help keep your resolutions on track. I’ve successfully used raisins instead of prunes, almonds instead of cashews, and regular dark chocolate, in additional to Nava’s suggestions, all to the same enthusiastic reception. You have my sweet-toothed word that they don’t taste the least bit like “health food,” and you will never regret savoring that one extra square.

Mega Maca Brownies
Adapted from Nava Atlas’ Unbaked Fudgy Brownies from Plant Power

1 Cup Raw Cashews
1 Cup Pitted Prunes
3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
4 (1.4 Ounce) Maca Chocolate Bars, Finely Chopped, Divided
1/4 Cup Sacha Inchi, Roughly Chopped

Place the cashews in your food processor and pulse until ground to a fine powder. Add in the prunes, cocoa powder, vanilla, salt, and half of the chopped chocolate. Pulse once more to incorporate, processing until the mixture holds together when pressed. Be patient, as this may take a few minutes.

Add the remaining chocolate along with the sacha inchi and pulse just briefly to distribute the goodies throughout the mixture. These final additions should be roughly chopped but still easily visible. You don’t want to puree the whole thing, since it’s much more satisfying with a bit of texture left in it.

Transfer the mixture to a lightly greased 8 x 8-inch square pan. Use a wide spatula to press it evenly into the bottom before stashing it in the fridge. Chill for at least an hour before slicing and serving. Keep leftovers covered and stored in the refrigerator for no more than a week, or in the freezer for up to a month.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Cheers to the New Year

Defined by drunken revelry and proverbial open bars of debauchery, it should come as no surprise that New Year’s Eve has never been greeted with much enthusiasm in the BitterSweet household. A whole family of teetotalers and working people, it’s frankly a miracle that anyone even stays awake long enough to watch the ball drop on TV. It’s true; we’re just that exciting. I should really just speak for myself though, given that not even the finest glass of sparkling champagne would strike my fancy, while others would gladly partake.

Why on earth is it that fewer people are interested in making non-alcoholic cocktails for us lightweights and cheap dates over here? Seems to me a gross oversight, excluding such a large portion of thirsty consumers when it takes no more effort to just exclude the booze. Inspired by Zevia‘s call to arms, I wanted to take this opportunity to try out their new Tonic Water and lift a glass to 2015 in style. Bitter, astringent stuff by itself, this stevia-sweetened bubbly brew makes an uncanny substitute for the traditional mix of cognac and champagne typically found in a French 75. Authenticity be damned, I’m just happy to finally have a respectable drink to toast with when the clock strikes midnight.

With that, I want to wish everyone out there in all corners of the world a very Happy New Year! May it be the best one yet.

Zevia Faux 75
Adapted from The New York Times

2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup Fresh Lemon Juice
1 (12-Ounce Can) Zevia Tonic Water
2 Strips of Lemon Zest (Optional, for Garnish)

Shake the agave and lemon juice vigorously in a cocktail shaker until thoroughly blended. Divide the mixture between two champagne flutes and top with equal amounts of the tonic water. Garnish with lemon zest for some extra festive flair, if desired.

Makes 2 Drinks

Printable Recipe


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Having a Ball

Talk about a whirl-wind holiday! Is it just me, or did this whole festive day seem to be eclipsed by the madness leading up to it? So much fuss for such a little event, Christmas already feels like a thing of the past, long gone and mostly forgotten. Of course, a few strong drinks no doubt enhances that sensation, and I must claim at least partial responsibility for that this year. While I remain a staunch non-drinker, I have admittedly developed a penchant for alcoholic additions to sweets. This curious dissonance grew more pronounced when my grandma generously gifted me with the better part of her liquor cabinet, previously languishing amongst the bulk wrapping paper and excess Tupperware in the cellar. Glistening bottles of Cassis, Grand Marnier, Framboise, and so many more all beckoned, splashing about beguilingly in the most innocent way a potential poison can manage. Carrying armloads of the ornate glass containers up the stairs and cramming them greedily into an overstuffed bag, little did I know just how these colorful liquids would soon paint my holiday season.

Oh, did I ever have a ball- And I made sure that everyone else had at least a dozen of their own, too! It started simply with my “famous” Pecan Pie Truffles, but all pretense of moderation quickly devolved from there. For friends, family, and anyone who happened to cross my path for the next few weeks, I crafted boozy peppermint mocha bites, chocolatey little numbers enriched with both Kahlúa and Creme de Mènthe. Next there were drunken apple jacks, living up to their names with a generous splash of Applejack to round out a cinnamon-spiced graham cracker base. By far, though, my favorite ball of the bunch were the Speculoos Rum Balls, sticking with the traditional addition of rum, but shaking things up with ground speculoos cookies, a touch of cocoa, and a creamy smear of speculoos spread. The combination of rum and brown sugar biscuits was positively intoxicating, and I swear that’s not just the alcohol’s doing.

There must have been at least 200 balls all told. Nonetheless, every last one was gleefully gobbled up before I realized what a gem I had inadvertently created for New Year’s celebrations as well. Only when it came time to edit the photos did I realize that my pick of the litter, decorated with sparkling pearlized sugar, looked just like the Times Square Ball due to drop at midnight in a scant few days from now. Although I’m quite excited to attend my very first Pineapple Drop this year instead, I don’t see why another round of speculoos balls wouldn’t be a welcome way to celebrate 2015 all the same.

Speculoos Rum Balls

1 7-Ounce Box (About 1 3/4 Cups) Finely Ground Speculoos Cookie Crumbs
1 3/4 Cups Cashew Meal or Almond Meal
1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 Cup Smooth Speculoos Spread
1/2 Cup Dark Rum

1/3 – 1/2 Cup Pearlized Silver Sugar, Sprinkles, or Additional Cookie Crumbs for Rolling

It’s flat-out impossible to ruin rum balls, so let’s keep this tutorial brief, shall we? Simply combine the ground cookies, nut meal of choice, sugar, and cocoa powder in a large bowl. Add in the speculoos spread and rum, and stir thoroughly to incorporate. The resulting mixture will be very thick; you may want to get in there and use your hands to make sure that there are no remaining pockets of dry ingredients. Once fully mixed, use a small cookie scoop or standard spoon to dole out tablespoon-sized pieces. Roll them into balls and then toss them in the sugar or sprinkles, until fully coated.

Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for about a week, or in the fridge for up to a month.

Makes 40 – 50 Balls

Printable Recipe

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