BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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The New Sea Food

Take the salmon out of lomi salmon and what do you have? No, this isn’t a riddle, but a valid culinary question. Such a simple dish, hardly one that even requires a recipe, is tough to mess around with too much without accidentally chopping out its soul. Many an intrepid explorer, set on a mission of kitchen conquest, has pushed a simple, fool-proof concept far beyond its reasonable constraints- Myself included. How do you change something so radically and still be able to connect it back to the original dish? Sure, it will be tasty and satisfying, but you can hardly call a sandwich without peanut butter or jelly a PB & J, can you?

No matter how solidly set in stone some recipes may seem, there is always room for fresh interpretation. While wintering in Hawaii, there were plenty of opportunities to experiment with local ingredients and draw inspiration from the native cuisine. Lomi lomi salmon is about as classic Hawaiian as it gets, a staple found at any Luau worth its coconuts. Little more than salted salmon massaged with chopped tomatoes and onions, it compliments the starchier sides with its bright, salty flavors. Though it would seem impossible to veganize at first blush, the islands provide a natural alternative to any fishy components: Sea Asparagus.

Also known as samphire or glasswort, this sea vegetable is a tender green stalk very similar in appearance to tiny land-grown asparagus- Thus the obvious name. Absorbing the sea salt like a sponge, they can be quite salty if not thoroughly rinsed, and should never be salted no matter what you add to them. Slightly crunchy when raw or par-cooked, they’re an exotic delight to someone accustomed to flat, gelatinous, or stringy sea vegetables like myself. They grow all over the world and can usually be found in gourmet markets, but naturally, they’re cultivated right in the heart of Hawaii, making them more accessible to the city dwellers of Honolulu than most.

This recipe isn’t my entirely own creation, but inspired by the serving suggestion printed on the very label for Olakai sea asparagus. The only farm on Oahu growing these spindly green stalks, they know better than anyone else on the island how to best honor this unique ingredient. I’ve only put a few small twists on their basic formula, making use of more local produce such as the adorable tiny currant tomatoes from Ho Farms and sweet Maui onions. The precise combination is one that I may not be able to repeat for quite some time, but as long as I can find sea asparagus, you can be sure that this salad will find its way to my table.

Lomi Sea Asparagus

4 Ounces Fresh Sea Asparagus
1 Ounce Sweet Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Avocado or Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
4 Ounces Currant Tomatoes (or Halved Cherry Tomatoes)

Snip off any brown ends on the sea asparagus before rinsing them thoroughly under hot water. Toss them in a bowl along with the diced onion, oil, and lemon juice. Massage the vegetables with your fingers for a minute or two, just to tenderize the stalks slightly. Add in the tomatoes, mix to distribute throughout the salad, and either chill for up to two days, or serve right away. Don’t be tempted to add any salt, since the sea asparagus are already packed full of sodium.

Makes 2 – 3 Side Dish Servings

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A Quiet Comfort

The overstuffed bus limps along, laboring through rush hour congestion, pausing to catch its breath at almost every street corner. It groans and wheezes as passengers filter out, the crowds gradually thinning as the street numbers increase, moving farther away from the bustle of downtown. Finally, finally, after an hour of holding my breath to squeeze in between the seasoned commuters, I finally stumble down the short staircase and roll out down the steep hill ahead. Darkness hasn’t yet settled in, but it looms ever closer, tugging insistently at the edges of overcast sky. Despite the howling wind, the pair of keys rattling in loose grasp is the only sound I can hear, so focused on getting in the door, getting back “home,” and just being able to unwind.

These are only my first days of school, on campus again for the first time in over five years, and they’ve already taken a lot of out me. In such moments of utter exhaustion, creative cooking is the last thing on my mind, but a girl’s still gotta eat. Working to extract the maximum amount of flavor out of a minimum of ingredients and time, a new sort of “comfort food” emerges, and this seemingly bare carrot soup is one shining example. If you have carrots, you can have soup. Thanks to my friends over at So Delicious, I had the opportunity to try out their new aseptic Culinary Coconut Milk, which is every bit as handy and shelf-stable as the canned variety, but a more environmentally friendly package.

The results are nothing mind-blowing or particularly innovative, but a quiet sort of comfort food that just seems to fit the occasion. Sometimes that’s all we need, right?

Spicy Carrot Soup
Adapted from Bon Apetit

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Pound Carrots, Peeled and Chopped
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Chopped
2 Cups Water
11-Ounce Aseptic Carton or 14-Ounce Can Full Fat Coconut Milk
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, To Taste
1 – 2 Tablespoons Sriracha
Fresh Parsley, for Garnish (Optional)

Heat the oil in a medium pot over moderate heat. Add carrots and onion and saute until the onions are lightly browned and aromatic. Pour in the water and coconut milk, bringing the mixture to a boil before reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are fork-tender; about 25 – 30 minutes.

Use an immersion blender or traditional standing blender to thoroughly puree the soup until entirely smooth. Season with salt, pepper, and sriracha to taste, thinning with additional water if necessary.

To serve, top bowlfuls with a final drizzle of sriracha for an extra kick of spice, plus fresh parsley leaves if desired.

The soup can be made up to a week in advance when stored in an airtight container.

Makes About 4 Servings

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Dollars to Doughnuts

Name any day of the year, and I’ll tell you what food the calendar advises us to celebrate. National food holidays have become more of a joke than ever, despite never having serious credentials or origins of real significance in the first place. Every food council wants to get their edibles on the map, from soup to nuts- Literally. Celebrating these obscure occasions used to be a fun diversion, a bit of trivia to share and an excuse to eat something different, but now it’s just too difficult to keep up. However, there’s still one event that I’ve been celebrating since junior high, marking the date every time I put a blank calendar on the wall: National Doughnut Day. The first Friday of every June has been designated as a time to indulge in these sweet fried rings or spheres, and not just because the United Fried Snack Cake Board of America* said so. No sir, this holiday goes back to the late 1930’s, when the Salvation Army began giving out free doughnuts to soldiers who served in the war. There’s real history behind this joyous, delicious affair.

*Totally fictitious organization, but someone really ought to consider establishing this, don’t you think?

Happily, everyone can join in on the fried festivities now, war veteran or not. Although there are quite a few shops giving away free oily goods to mark the day, you can do so much better by turning to your own kitchen rather the drive through for doughnut satisfaction. A fear of frying puts many cooks off, but with a simple recipe and a healthy dose of caution, you’ll be rolling in hot, crispy doughnuts, fresher and tastier than anything else on the market. Cake-based doughnut holes fit the criteria beautifully: There’s no yeast that needs to awaken or dough to rise, no fussy shaping or cutting to speak of. You can just mix and fry at a moment’s notice.

One of the greatest benefits of fabricating your own fried treats is the freedom to flavor them in any way your heart desires. Chocolate is always a winning pick, one that I couldn’t resist for this particular celebration. Do you really think I would choose just plain chocolate doughnut holes, though? Clearly you don’t know me very well…

Hidden inside of each tender sphere is a gooey, sticky marshmallow, turning these average munchkins into one-of-a-kind hot chocolate doughnuts, inspired by mugs of hot cocoa topped with a crown of mini mallows melting on top. The crisp, sugar-coated exterior gives way to the most moist chocolate cake you could hope to taste, the marshmallow in the center adding equal parts indulgence and nostalgia. To further the “hot” part of the theme, cinnamon sugar or even a spicy, cayenne-flecked sugar could provide the finishing touch, but a simple, straightforward sweetness was exactly what I was craving.

Hot Chocolate Doughnut Holes

20 – 30 Vegan Mini Marshmallows
1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

To Finish:

1 Quart Neutral Oil, for Frying
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar

Before getting started on the batter, place your marshmallows in a single layer on a plate or small sheet pan and stash them in the freezer. They must be frozen solidly before going into the hot oil or else they’ll melt away completely! Allow at least 30 minutes before using your icy mallows.

The batter comes together very quickly, so first begin by pouring the neutral oil into a medium pot with high sides over set over medium heat on the stove.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, stirring to combine. Separately mix the non-dairy milk, vinegar, and olive oil before pouring the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Stir just until the batter comes together with no remaining pockets of dry goods. The mixture should be somewhat on the wet side and definitely sticky, but manageable when handled lightly. Scoop out heaping tablespoons of the batter and stuff a single frozen marshmallow into the center of each. Use lightly moistened hands to shape the dough around the mallow, rounding the raw doughnut out into a rough ball and making sure that the marshmallow is fully sealed inside. Handle them gently, since the dough is very soft.

When the oil hits 360 – 370 degrees, carefully lower 3 – 5 doughnut holes at a time into the pot. Cook for 4 – 5 minutes, turning the doughnuts as needed to ensure even frying all over. The best way to tell if they’re done is to watch and listen to the oil; at first, it will fizzle up madly and seem to almost hiss, but by the time the doughnuts are finished, the surface of the oil should be much calmer, and you will hear more of a pinging sound.

Use a spider strainer or slotted spoon to lift the doughnut holes out of the oil and drain them on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts. Let them cool for at least 15 minutes before rolling in the additional granulated sugar, and serve as soon as possible. Doughnuts don’t get better with age, and I wouldn’t recommend keeping them beyond a day. Luckily, with doughnut holes this good, I don’t think you’ll have any problem with leftovers!

Makes 20 – 30 Doughnut Holes

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Drowned in Cacao

Considering the thrilling news about my book and the rising temperatures outside, it’s no surprise that ice cream has been on my mind lately. Starting off the season on a high note with one of my personal favorites, an affogato is the perfect transitional dessert for a lingering spring with a few sudden heat waves thrown into the mix.

Classically prepared with vanilla ice cream, the frosty scoops are unceremoniously drowned in steaming hot espresso, mingling for those few fleeting seconds to create a sensation that vacillates between hot and cold, cold and hot, and finally hot once more. It’s the kind of dessert that you can’t get wrapped “to go” at a restaurant, that you can’t get prepackaged; it must be enjoyed immediately, but above all else, thoroughly. Perhaps I love it so much because it really forces you to be in the moment, rather than mindlessly munching on stray cake crumbs or a few leftover cookies. It’s more of an experience than dish, when you get right down to it.

Of course, I’m hardly the sort to do anything traditional when it comes to food, so my flavors vary as wildly as the weather. The only constant has been that strong, dark shot of espresso poured on top… Until I discovered there was such a thing as chocolate tea. Pacha provided me with the opportunity to sample their cacao infusions, providing the inspiration for my inverse affogato. Instead of pouring espresso on top, why not freeze it as the ice cream instead? Steeped for twice as long and at double-strength, the chocolatey brew marries harmoniously with the creamy coffee ice cream, giving life to a new mocha flavor, as delicate as it is complex.

If the world is not black and white, why should all affogato remain merely vanilla and espresso?

Inverse Affogato

Espresso Ice Cream:

1 Can (1 3/4 Cup) Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Instant Espresso Powder or 1 Tablespoon Instant Coffee Powder
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
1/4 Cup Kahlua or Coffee Liqueur

To Serve:

Strong Brewed Cacao Tea, Hot

To make the ice cream, simply toss all of the ingredients except for the liqueur into a medium saucepan and whisk thoroughly. Make sure you break up any clumps before turning on the heat to medium. Whisk periodically until the mixture comes to a boil. Cook at a full boil for 2 additional minutes, and then remove the pan from the burner. Add in the liqueur last, stirring to incorporate. Let cool to room temperature and then chill thoroughly for at least 3 hours before churning in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once churned, transfer the fresh, soft ice cream into an air-tight container and stash it your freezer for at least 3 hours before serving.

To serve your affogato, simply scoop the ice cream into a heat-safe dish and pour as much of the hot cacao tea on top as desired. Eat immediately!

Makes About 1 – 1 1/2 Pints Ice Cream

Printable Recipe


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C’est Magnifique!

Magic is what happens when impossibilities become reality.

Thus, this new development can only be explained as an act of magic. How else could France’s sole 100% vegan publisher, L’Age d’Homme, have picked my modest tribute to dairy-free ice creams out of a veritable ocean of cookbook options? Of all books, of all things- It’s still hard for me to believe! I don’t speak French and have only visited the country briefly, but this could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

I haven’t yet seen the translated and reformatted rendition, renamed Veganice Glaces VĂ©ganes, but I’m already thrilled by the adorable new cover. For all you Francophiles out there, keep you eyes peeled for the release on June 21st! Should any French-speaking vegans out there get your hands on a copy, please let me know how the the recipes read, since I wouldn’t know the difference whether the instructions ultimately make ice cream or bicycles. Plus, I just got word that Vegan Desserts and Easy as Vegan Pie will also be joining Collection V shortly… Stay tuned for more details as they develop!

Since I can think of no better way to celebrate than with a big scoop of freshly churned ice cream, my recipe for Beurre Noisette Ice Cream, straight out of Vegan a la Mode, sounds like the perfect flavor to mark the occasion.

Beurre Noisette Ice Cream

Otherwise known as browned butter, the French have a much more elegant way of describing this rich nectar as “hazelnut butter,” alluding to the toasty, hazelnut-like flavor derived from a quick flash in the pan. The application of gentle heat transforms this everyday substance into something otherworldly, redolent with both salty and savory notes that heighten the sweetness of baked goods, or in this case, frozen treats. Many chefs would have you believe that this decadent substance can only be made with dairy, but au contraire, I’ve found that the same process works just as well with vegan “butter.” Taking the French term a bit more literally, a generous handful of hazelnuts cranks up the volume on that naturally nutty essence all the way to 11, so really, who needs the dairy anyway?

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
3 1/4 Cups Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Arrowroot
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup or Light Agave Nectar
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

1/2 Cup Toasted Hazelnuts, Finely Chopped

Cut the margarine into tablespoon-sized pieces and place them in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Wait for all of the margarine to melt, then begin swirling the pan around to stir, as needed. In a fairly short time it should begin to look somewhat separated, with a foamy white top and yellow oil underneath that will gradually progress to a darker color. Eventually, the solids will settle to the bottom and begin to brown. The best judge of doneness here is to watch and listen to the bubbles; they will start making a more hollow pinging sort of sound near the end, and slow nearly to stopping.

At that point, quickly add in the sugar, whisking slowly but continuously. The mixture will be clumpy initially, but it will smooth out. Cook the sugar to a deep amber color, but do not be alarmed if it’s still not completely dissolved yet. Add in 1 1/2 cups of the non-dairy milk very carefully to arrest the caramelization process– Stand back, because it will sputter angrily. Things may look like a mess now, with the sugar solidified and clumped at the bottom of the pan, but do not panic! Continue stirring over gentle heat until the sugar melts and becomes smooth again.

Whisk cornstarch and remaining milk together separately before adding it into the pan with the corn syrup and salt. Turn the heat up to medium, bring the mixture to a full boil, then turn off the stove. Stir in the vanilla and let cool to room temperature before moving the cooked custard into your fridge. Chill thoroughly, for at least 3 hours, before churning.

Churn in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions. In the last 5 minutes of churning, slowly sprinkle in the chopped hazelnuts so that the blades of the paddle incorporate and distribute the nuts throughout the ice cream. Transfer the soft ice cream to an air-tight container, and store it in the freezer for at least 3 hours before serving.

Makes 1 – 1 1/2 Quarts

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Big Fish in a Small Pond

If we can all agree that 2013 was the year of the coconut, then I do hereby declare 2014 the year of the vegan fish. Perhaps the trend isn’t quite so widespread or pronounced- You’re not about to find mock seafood woven into everything from granola bars to non-dairy beverages, thank goodness- but it’s a distinct and growing section of the innovative food industry. While the demand for cruelty-free alternatives has grown to a deafening roar over the past decade, meatless offerings never included any oceanic facsimiles. It was the last frontier of veganism, but no more.

I first became aware of Atlantic Natural Foods and their Vegetarian Fishless Tuna back in the cold days of winter, and thanks to my snail’s pace of turning out a review, they have since updated their branding. It now falls under their Caroline’s line, bearing a shiny new label, but the product itself remains the same. Soy-based and packed in a tin can just like the “real” thing, it’s the only fishless canned tuna on the market. Gone are the days of Tuno, but anyone who misses the stuff should be thrilled; Caroline’s is a clear improvement.

That said, for anyone unaccustomed to fishy flavors, steel yourself as you pop the lid for the first time. The pungent aroma hits you right away, and unfortunately, it’s not exactly an enticing one. Smelling quite a bit like cat food, it doesn’t look too much better, either. In all fairness though, real canned tuna has always grossed me out, even when I was an avid fish-eater. Appearing to be little more than TVP in water at first blush, a flaky yet substantial, satisfying texture reveals itself at first bite, imitating the grain of cooked tuna surprisingly well. Leading with an unmistakable oceanic flavor, only a slight soy aftertaste gives away its true origins. Though first impressions may not be stellar, it’s pretty darned close to canned tuna, as far as I can recall, and I found myself quickly warming to the unique taste. Best of all, it’s not just a starchy copycat like many of the existing konjaku-based faux-seafoods, but has some real protein to speak of, making it a sound nutritional choice all told.

Though I would venture to guess that 95% of buyers will inevitably turn their fishless tuna into good old fashioned tuna salad, I wanted to go with a lighter, cleaner presentation to really highlight the mock meat. Composing a platter of tuna nicoise salad was a real treat, since it took almost no effort for a huge flavor payoff. Chickpeas tossed with a touch of sulfuric black salt took the place of hard boiled eggs, and the tuna itself needed only a light dressing of olive oil, mustard, lemon juice, and a handful of sliced scallions to really sing. I couldn’t get enough of this veggie-packed plate, devouring the entire thing in record time.

What I truly yearn for when it comes to seafood, though, is Japanese food. Considering that fish really makes up the foundation of this cuisine, the potential for even a canned alternative is nearly limitless. Sushi would have been the obvious (albeit undoubtedly delicious) route, so I instead opted to make a delightfully briny, somewhat salty furikake topping out of my remaining fishless fixings. Serving to both extend this rare ingredient while also extending its shelf life, you really get the most bang for your buck when it can be used over the course of countless meals. Plain old sushi rice comes to life with just a light sprinkle of this simple condiment, but the sky’s the limit when it comes to topping potential. Think of the salads, french fries, popcorn, and noodles that could all benefit from a little extra umami. As long as you don’t include it as an option at your next ice cream social, I’d say all the rest is fair game.

Fishless Furikake

1/2 Cup Very Thoroughly Drained Vegan Tuna
2 Teaspoons Tamari
1 Teaspoon Mirin
1 Teaspoon Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Toasted White Sesame Seeds
2 Tablespoons Toasted Black Sesame Seeds
1 Sheet Toasted Nori

Preheat your oven to 225 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Simply toss the “tuna” with the tamari, mirin, and oil to thoroughly coat. Spread it out into one thin, even layer on your prepared baking sheet and slide it into the oven. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes, until darkened in color, reduced in size, and dry to the touch. They may not feel crispy just yet, but they will continue to dry as they cool.

Cool the fishless tuna flakes completely before combining them with both types of sesame seeds. Use a sharp pair of scissors to cut the sheet of nori into inch-long strips. Stack the strips on top of each other and then cut them into very thin ribbons, just a few millimeters wide. Add the nori into the mixture, stir well, and store in an air-tight container at room temperature. The furikake will keep for at least a month, possibly longer- I couldn’t save any long enough to find out!

Makes About 1 Scant Cup

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Pea-Brained

To say that I’ve been feeling a bit scattered lately would be putting it lightly. Silly little oversights have punctuated the last couple of days, spicing up the mundane routine with strange surprises sprinkled here and there. Dirty dishes some how find their way back into cupboards, unwashed; recipe components are completed, and then forgotten until the meal is fully devoured; days seep through my fingers like water, obliterating a once rigid posting schedule. Nothing to be alarmed about, but it’s clear that running on autopilot is not serving my needs particularly well lately. “Pea-brained” would describe the situation quite nicely, and not just because of my increasingly dimwitted mistakes. Spring is on my mind, driving me to the point of distraction. Longer, brighter days captivate me while simultaneously throwing off my finely tuned rhythm, and the influx of fresh, vibrant produce easily overwhelms my senses. What to eat first? Where to go, what to do? Every winter seems interminable, so when it finally relinquishes its icy grip, it feels like a brand new world out there.

The best cure for seasonal disorientation is immersion, so let’s jump right in and celebrate the other reason for my pea-brained state: Peas! In all their green glory, this simple salad combines snow peas, pea shoots, and English peas to showcase their myriad textures, flavors, and shapes. The rather silly, rhyming title doesn’t fully do this combination justice, but was unavoidable thanks to the matcha tea-infused dressing, lending equal parts bitterness and sweetness to the blend.

In case you’re suffering from an equally pea-brained daze, a heaping helping of this bright, fresh homage to the humble pea might just be the antidote.

Three Pea Tea Salad

6 Ounces Snow Peas, Thinly Sliced on the Diagonal
4 Ounces Pea Shoots
8 Ounces Raw English Peas

Green Tea Dressing:

2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Tablespoon Yellow Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1/2 Teaspoon Matcha Powder
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

I think you can already see how this one should come together, but in case you need someone to hold your hand, here’s the rundown: Toss the sliced snow peas, pea shoots, and English peas together in a large bowl. Separately whisk together all of the ingredients for the green tea dressing, beating the mixture thoroughly until smooth. Pour it all over the vegetables, tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately!

Makes 3 – 4 Side Dish-Sized Servings

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