BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


9 Comments

A Cookie for Every Craving

Whether you’ve baked a dozen batches of every cookie bookmarked in your recipe file or have yet to fire up the oven, it’s never too late to squeeze in another sweet option. Especially true around the holidays, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season than with a few homemade morsels of sweetness. The possibilities are simply endless, taking form in every shape under the sun, boasting colors and flavors previously beyond the scope of imagination. Even if you have a game plan all set out for your festive gifts, desserts, and midnight snacks, it’s never to late to add a few more recipes to that list.

This is especially true when you’re talking about the winners of the annual VegNews Holiday Cookie Contest. Certified delicious by a panel of discerning sweet teeth, I was tasked with an assignment of significant import: Photographing the top three victorious treats. Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

In third place, the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies by Alison Sullivan sparkle with the warm spices and rich chocolate flavor. The only thing better than enjoying one still warm out of the oven would be to pair it with a cup of the eponymous beverage itself.

Coming in at second place, the Gingerbread Fudge Buttons by Anna Jurik are real beauties to behold. Luscious pools of melted chocolate resting in tender gingerbread cups, these options are sure to shine on any cookie platter.

Taking the grand prize in first place, it’s easy to see why the Salted Caramel Cookies by Michelle Norton took the cake- Or cookie, as it were. Dangerously easy to whip up, this sweet and salty combination hits all the high notes in every soft, chewy bite. Just try and leave a single one out for Santa, I dare you!

No matter how you decide to celebrate the holiday, or not, be sure to make it sweet. Have a happy everything!


5 Comments

Ugly but Tasty

Though it’s a quality often possessed by the most delicious meals and one that I passionately embrace in my daily menu, ugliness can be the kiss of death for a new recipe. Creations so unsightly that no amount of careful prop styling nor Photoshopping can disguise, countless innocent dishes have met their end, sacrificed in the name of vanity and not in good taste. For this conceit, I must apologize, my dear readers. It’s a personal shortfall that I couldn’t look beyond a bad photo shoot for so many homely, but tasty, pursuits.

Thank goodness for recipe tasters. Even when I’ve written something off as unexceptional, imperfect, and most commonly of all, unphotogenic, there are passionate eaters in my life outspoken enough to rescue those edible gems from certain doom. One of the most “famous” cases was that of the Frankenstorm Pie; quickly thrown together without any recipe at all, it was only due to the begging and pleading of the recipients that it was even recorded in any format to begin with, let alone make the final cut for the pages of Easy as Vegan Pie.

By some small miracle and number of very vocal recipients, one of last year’s holiday gifts was rescued from a similar fate. Inspired by the traditional rum ball, these potent little treats may be sorely lacking in the beauty department, but the flavor sure won’t leave you wanting. Spiked with a heady dose of both mint and coffee liqueurs, they were originally dubbed “Boozy Peppermint Mocha Balls,” but the only way I could think to improve their image problem was to further finesse the moniker, at the very least.

Just think of these little morsels as the adult version of a peppermint mocha latte in candy form, and for maximum enjoyment, don’t waste too much time admiring their good looks… Or lack thereof.

Spiked Peppermint Mocha Bites

2 1/2 (12-Ounce) Packages Peppermint Joe-Joe’s or Mint Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (30 Ounces Total)
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar, Divided
1/4 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup (6 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Cup Kahlua or Any Other Coffee Liqueur
1/4 Cup Creme de Menthe or Any Other Mint Liqueur

Place the minty sandwich cookies of your choice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “s” blade, and pulse until very finely ground. Don’t worry about a few larger pieces; the extra texture is a nice addition. Introduce 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar, instant coffee, and salt next, pulse briefly to incorporate.

In a microwave-safe dish, combine the chocolate and maple syrup, and heat for 60 seconds. Let stand for another minute before stirring thoroughly, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Add the liquid chocolate into the food processor along with both liqueurs. Pulse again until the mixture is more or less homogeneous, with no particular dry or wet patches.

Scoop out a heaping tablespoon for each bite, roll firmly but gently into a ball between your palms, and toss in the remaining cup of confectioner’s sugar to coat. Repeat until all of the cookie mixture is used up, and work quickly; it becomes increasingly difficult to shape as the chocolate cools. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week, or in the fridge for up to a month… If you can manage to ignore them for that long.

Makes 5 – 6 Dozen Bites

Printable Recipe


13 Comments

Decadent Delicata

Hannukah is NOT the time to embark on some radical new low-fat diet. No matter where you believe lipids belong on your own personal food pyramid, oil is hero of this holiday, and the substance we all celebrate. From the oil in the miraculously burning lamps to the oil frying our food, the stuff has left its gloriously greasy residue all over this joyous event. This is the one rare time of year that we’re implored to ignore conventional nutritional advice and fry, fry again.

That’s not to say that just any old grease ball on a plate will suffice. Typical holiday fare turns starchy potatoes into crisp latkes and yeasted dough into jelly-stuffed sufganiyot. Dessert is where things get interesting, as the number of acceptable permutations for those requisite oily cakes hovers somewhere in the thousands. Latkes, on the other hand, are either right (however your grandma made them) or wrong (everything else.)

So on this occasion I throw caution to the wind along with another decadent treat into the vat of angrily bubbling oil. If there ever was such a thing as a “healthy” doughnut, laughable baked versions notwithstanding, it would unarguably be one made of a vegetable.

Inspired by their naturally alluring rings, simple sliced delicata squash stand in for the carbohydrate portion of the program, replacing the predictably dense dough with tender, subtly nuanced, pumpkin-like flesh. Far more flavorful than the bread-based default, it wins the battle for ease of preparation as well; the thin green skin needn’t be peeled, so just slice, remove the seeds, and you’re well on your way to an entirely new sweet holiday sensation.

Lightly battered and graced by a crunchy coating of simple cinnamon sugar, it’s hard to believe that such decadent treats are little more than plain squash rings dressed up in their finest. While you won’t fool any vegetable haters into confusing these for traditional doughnuts, you may just win them over.

Take it one step further still with a luxurious glaze of apple cider icing, redolent of the orchards on a brisk fall day. Reducing the cider does take a bit of patience, but every extra minute is well worth the wait. These dainty iced doughnuts are always the first to disappear.

Delicata Doughnuts

1 Medium (A Little Over 1 Pound) Delicata Squash
3/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Starch
2 Tablespoons Chickpea Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
3/4 Cup Water

Neutral Oil for Frying, such as Rice Bran or Canola

Cinnamon Sugar:

1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon

Cider Icing:

2 Cups Unfiltered Apple Cider
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar

To begin, fill a large saucepan about 1/3 full with your neutral oil of choice and heat to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, thoroughly wash and dry your delicate before slicing it into 1/2-inch thick rings. Clean out the inner guts and seeds by either scraping it with a spoon, or using small round cookie cutters to punch out the stringy innards.

Prepare the batter by simply whisking together all of the dry ingredients before slowly adding in the water. Whisk just until the mixture is smooth. Separately, stir together the cinnamon and sugar topping in a medium bowl, and set aside.

For the glaze, place the apple cider in a small sauce pan and simmer until it has reduce to a mere 1/4 cup. Add in the vanilla and confectioner’s sugar, stirring until perfectly smooth and lump-free. Set aside.

When the oil has come up to the right temperature, dip the delicata rings into batter one at a time, letting the excess drip off. Carefully lower them into the hot oil, cooking no more than two or three at a time, depending on the size of your pot. Let them cook undisturbed for about a minute before turning, flipping them frequently from that point onward to monitor browning. When the rings are evenly golden brown all over, use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer them to a wire rack. While still warm, toss them individually in the cinnamon sugar, if using. If using the cider icing, let the donuts cool just until you can comfortably handle them, and gently dip the tops into the prepared glaze.

Best eaten as soon as possible!

Makes 10 – 14 Doughnuts

Printable Recipe


12 Comments

In the Zone

In this day and age, it’s stunning that there are still any lingering concerns about where vegans get their protein from. That said, not all sources are created equal, and I’m still a big fan of protein shakes for quick nutrition infusions on the go. The field is littered with failed attempts at appealing only to health nuts, and not necessarily their taste buds, so it’s with great trepidation that I would tempt fate and deviate from my tried-and-true rotation of powdered options.

Thank goodness I gave Pro(Zero) by HPN Supplements a try. Blending pea and rice protein with lou han guo and stevia for strength and sweetness, the label itself was unarguably impressive. Immediately dispelling my biggest textural fears, each shake mixed up beautifully in just a standard sports bottle. Silky smooth, not a lump nor clump in sight, it was ready to go with only water and a bit of elbow grease. Quite substantial without any sort of extras necessary, I found that one scoop easily kept me satisfied for hours, even through the most drawn out, late night classes.

Granted, it’s not a miracle mix. It continues to thicken as it sits, so it shouldn’t be blended in advance. Plus, it’s best served icy-cold; at room temperature, there are some vaguely fruity notes, a strained sweetness, and very slightly bitter aftertaste that come to the fore. The takeaway here is that as long as your shakes don’t sit around, you’ll still be sitting pretty!

Excited by this new protein-packed ingredient, I wanted to see what else it could do to supercharge some other snacks. With an eye to the holidays, it seemed like the perfect thing to turn into a festive, yet healthy indulgence.

Does anything say “indulgence” better than a vanilla bean-flecked bark, covered with toasted pistachios and sweetened dried cranberries?

Well, what about a thick slab of chocolate, dotted with crunchy crushed cacao nibs and a smattering of flaky sea salt?

Just because it’s classified as candy doesn’t mean it has to be unhealthy. I’d like to think that protein bark is the new protein bar, with an extra dose of holiday whimsy mixed in. Whether it’s a gift you give to friends and family or simply to yourself, it’s guaranteed to be in good taste!

Not all protein powders react the same when used in various recipes, so I would highly recommend stocking up on Pro(Zero) specifically this time around. Just for you, my sweet readers, order directly from HPN Supplements and get 10% off by using the coupon code “bittersweet”.

Protein Holiday Bark

Peppermint Cacao Bark:

6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Whipped Vanilla Protein Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs
Coarse or Flaky Sea Salt

Cranberry-Pistachio Bark:

1/2 Cup Refined Coconut Oil
1/2 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Whipped Vanilla Protein Powder
3 Tablespoons Confectioners’ Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Toasted, Unsalted Pistachios
1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries

For the Peppermint Cacao Bark, place the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe dish and heat at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each cycle, until completely melted. Add in the protein powder and peppermint extract, mixing thoroughly. Once the powder is completely incorporated, spread the mixture out on a piece of parchment paper or a silpat. Smooth it out as thinly as possible with a wide spatula; exact dimensions aren’t important.

Sprinkle the cacao nibs and a pinch of sea salt over the top, gently pressing the goodies into the surface so that they adhere. Place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes for the bark to solidify before breaking into pieces and enjoying.

For the Cranberry-Pistachio Bark, place the coconut oil in a microwave-safe dish and heat until liquefied. Add in the protein powder, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla paste or powder, and salt, stirring until the mixture is homogeneous. Allow it to sit in a cool place for about 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until it begins to thicken and solidify again. If you house is very warm, place it in the fridge for only 5 – 10 minutes, stirring every minute or so for the same effect.

Spread the mixture out on a piece of parchment paper or a silpat as thinly as possible with a wide spatula; exact dimensions aren’t important. Once smooth, sprinkle the pistachios and cranberries evenly over the top, gently pressing the goodies into the surface so that they adhere. Place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes for the bark to solidify before breaking into pieces and enjoying.

Store either rendition in an airtight container in the fridge or a cool place for up to a week.

Printable Recipe

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


6 Comments

Ode to Soy

Pulp. By-product. Waste.

To describe the venerable soybean substance known as okara by any of the above terms strikes me as ranging from unpleasant to downright offensive. Though in truth, no one has ever set out specifically to create okara, it’s a shame that such a vital component of the whole bean is often cast aside, still brimming with unrealized nutritional and culinary potential.

If you want to make soymilk or tofu, you’ve got to blend some beans, and what’s leftover after straining out the liquid is fresh okara. Still packed with impressive amounts of fiber, protein, and calcium, it’s stunning that the stuff hasn’t spawned a new superfood craze of its own. Pitifully hard to come by on grocery store shelves, some metropolitan areas might boast Asian markets savvy enough to carry this uncelebrated soybean substance, but manufacturers are more than happy to help with direct requests.

I was lucky enough to take away a heaping helping from my visit to Hodo Soy and have only just begun to explore the limitless recipe possibilities. It freezes beautifully and has a mild flavor that can agree with just about any dish. One of my favorite simple preparations is Bryanna Clark Grogan’s okara parmesan, but with the new abundance on hand, I wanted to explore farther beyond the typical okara preparations.

Protein bars are always in high demand; a perfect snack or light meal on the go, their only fault can be excessive sweetness or secretly lack-luster ingredients. Not so of homemade renditions, and this okara-based beauty turns the standard format on its head. Based almost entirely on soybeans in a number of different forms and gluten-free to boot, it’s a delicious change of pace that won’t leave you in a sugar coma soon after indulging.

The following recipe calls for dry okara, such as you would find resulting from commercial production. Okara borne of homemade tofu is generally wetter simply because home cooks don’t have fancy machines designed specifically for squeezing every last drop of moisture out of the pulp. Not to worry; just plan on baking the wet okara on the lowest temperature possible for a little bit longer before moving on to the toasting phase.

Super Soy Okara Bars

1/2 Cup Creamy Soynut Butter
1/2 Cup Light Agave Nectar
2 Cups Toasted Okara*
1/3 Cup Roasted Edamame
2 Tablespoons Toasted Black Sesame Seeds
2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

*To toast your okara, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Start with at least 3 cups of dry okara to ensure there will be enough for this recipe, and spread it out in a large baking pan to a thickness of no more than 1/2 inch. Cook for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 15 – 25 minutes, until lightly golden all over and smelling wonderfully nutty. Cool completely before using or storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks

After toasting the okara, raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

From here on in, the procedure is very simple. Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with a sturdy spatula. Stir until the batter is smooth (aside from the mix-ins, of course) and don’t be afraid to really have at it. There’s no gluten to worry about it, so keep mixing until everything is fully blended.

Transfer the batter into your prepared prepared pan, spreading it out to fill the space evenly and smoothing the top.

Bake 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown and surface feel dry. Let the bars cool completely in the pan before using the parchment or foil as a sling to lift the whole lot out. Slice into single servings and wrap with plastic for later enjoyment. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a week to maintain maximum freshness.

Makes 8 – 12 Bars

Printable Recipe


12 Comments

Pie-Giving

For all their fussing, planning, and maddening preparation, hosts and hostesses across the country would have you believe that Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, but let’s be real: It’s a holiday built around pie. Although food historians now suggest that there was no pie on the menu for the first Thanksgiving, alleging that early colonists had no flour nor butter at their disposal, that simply strikes me as a terribly shortsighted judgement. What if they just went gluten-free and vegan for the final course? Or perhaps they simply went sans crust and opted to fashion impossible pies for the event instead.

Truly, a life without pie is one too dreadful to imagine, especially on this pie-centric holiday. One thing that scholars can agree on is that an assortment of native pumpkins could have indeed been found, so at least we’ve got the building blocks of a modern dessert in place right there.

My apologies to the pilgrims, but Thanksgiving is really more like Pie-Giving in my book, and I don’t make any concessions to tradition. My version of the holiday is filled with lavish sweets and a veritable parade of pies.

This year, I’m still stuck on marshmallows and pumpkins alike, so joining the two for a grand finale seemed all but inevitable. This rendition isn’t the typical baked custard affair, however. Aiming for a loftier consistency and cooler presentation, this chiffon filling is the dreamy antidote to even the most unimaginative, conventional Thanksgiving meal.

Celebrate the holiday to the fullest by gracing your festive table with these fluffy, ephemeral orange slices. Had any of the components been a glimmer in a wily baker’s eye, I have no doubt that the pilgrims would have definitely partaken in a generous helping or two as well.

Marshmallow Chiffon Pumpkin Pie

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 1/2 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs (About 12 Full Rectangle Sheets)
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

Marshmallow Chiffon Pumpkin Filling:

1 Cup 100% Pumpkin Puree
1 10-Ounce Bag Dandies Pumpkin Spice or Original Marshmallows
1 1/2 Teaspoons Coconut Oil
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 (14-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk, Chilled

To make the crust, break up the graham crackers into smaller pieces before pulsing in a food processor until very finely ground.Drizzle the melted margarine into the crumbs, and stir thoroughly to moisten the ground cookies.

Transfer the mix to a 9-inch round pie pan, and use lightly moistened fingers to firmly press it down on the bottom and along the sides. Use the bottom of a flat measuring cup or drinking glass for smoother sides.

To prepare the filling, place the pumpkin puree, marshmallows, and coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir gently but frequently until the marshmallows completely melt and the mixture is homogeneous. This can can get sticky, especially at first when the marshmallows are reluctant to join forces with the pumpkin, so stir carefully and be patient. Once smooth, stir in the spices and salt. Remove from the heat and cool for at least 5 minutes before proceeding.

Meanwhile, open the can of coconut milk without shaking it and skim off the top layer of thickened cream. Place it in the bowl of your stand mixer and begin beating it on a low speed. Gradually increase the speed, whipping in as much air as possible. Continue whipping for about 8 – 10 minutes, until greatly increased in volume.

Using a wide spatula, gently fold the whipped coconut cream into the pumpkin mixture, trying not to knock out the air bubbles you just created. Transfer the resulting filling into your prepared crust and smooth it out into one even layer.

Place the pie in the fridge and chill for at least 4 – 6 hours before serving, but overnight is best. To serve, simply slice the pie into wedges and top with additional dollops of whipped coconut cream, if desired.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


17 Comments

Tradition with a Twist

Thanksgiving purists, avert your eyes.

Truth be told, I can’t recall ever having a green bean casserole on the table at any of my childhood Thanksgiving celebrations. Perhaps there was one though, lovingly prepared by traditionalist grandmother, aunt, or uncle, but I sure never noticed. A holiday fraught with food complications even before I went vegan, there’s rarely been much on the expansive buffet table that got me excited, or even remotely hungry for that matter. Hunk of dry, bland turkey for you, my dear? How about a smidgen of mushy breadcrumbs swimming in a pool of their own tears? What about the gelatinous, can-shaped cranberry “sauce” that clearly has remained untouched up to this decade? No thanks, no thanks, and not on your life.

Mercifully, being that the menu remained more or less the same no matter who prepared it or where we met to eat, it became easier to predict the horrors that awaited me on that fated day of celebration. Prepared for the worst, it was a much more survivable experience, like going into battle with a map of where the landmines were hidden. It was still rough going- Downright traumatic at times, depending on the mortifying family memories that might be unearthed yet again- But at least you’d make it out alive.

Best of all, everyone would be so sick of the typical Thanksgiving fixings the next day that in spite of the copious embarrassment of leftovers, it wouldn’t be too difficult to plead for a dinner of Chinese takeout. That was the true festive meal, for all I was concerned.

Now on my own and separated by every member of my family by over 2,500 miles, I’m at a bit of a loss. I’ve finally gotten my wish, freed from the obligations of the traditional dinner, and I’m not quite sure I really want to escape it anymore. Suddenly those old-school favorites seem ripe with potential, and even though I have no plans or guests to feed, I can’t help but go back and create pieces of the feast that I always wished might be on the table.

That means combining the standard green bean casserole with an infusion of spicy sichuan peppers, just hot enough to make your lips tingle but still keep the inherent savory soul of the baked dish intact. The twist might very well horrify those who expect nothing but the same menu, year after decade after century, but for anyone who’s wanted to shake things up just a bit, I can’t think of a better dish to start with.

Sichuan (Szechuan) Green Bean Casserole

1 Pound Fresh Green Beans, Trimmed and Halved
1 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Shallot, Minced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1-Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Minced
1 Cup Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
1 Cup Unsweetened, Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Vegetable Broth
3 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1/8 – 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Sichuan Pepper*

1 Cup Fried Shallots or Onions, Divided
3/4 Cup Crispy Fried Noodles or Wonton Strips

*Given that true Sichuan peppercorns can be difficult to hunt down at times, you can omit them for an equally delicious, if less tongue-tingling experience.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Pour the sesame oil into a medium saucepan and heat over high. Once blisteringly hot, add the prepared green beans and saute while stirring briskly, until seared all over but still crisp; about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool.

Return the pan to the stove, down down the heat to medium, and add the olive oil, shallot, garlic, and ginger. Cook until aromatic and just barely browned around the edges; about 8 – 10 minutes. Introduce the mushrooms next and cook until softened. If any of the vegetables threaten to stick or burn, begin adding in splashes of the non-dairy milk.

Shake up the vegetable stock and flour in a closed jar to create a slurry. Add it into the pan, stirring to thoroughly incorporate, followed by the non-dairy milk. Introduce the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, pepper flakes and Sichuan pepper next, reducing the heat to medium-low and stirring to combine. Continue to cook, stirring periodically, until the mixture comes to a gentle boil.

Remove from the stove and add the green beans back into the mixture. Mix to combine, folding in 1/2 cup of the fried shallots as well. Transfer everything into a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish and top evenly with the crispy fried noodles and remaining fried shallots. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,879 other followers