BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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When Life Gives You Long Peppers…

The inability to simply say “no” or even “maybe not this time” has gotten me into a number of tricky situations, typically ending with an overload of extra work to contend with. This past weekend, however, was the first time that those missing words ended with an overload of hot long peppers.

Valley VegFest was winding down, my pie demo completed and the exhibitor’s hall quickly emptying out, when I chanced by a farm stand display of fresh produce. Picking through the remnants, two shiny, green peppers and three slightly bruised finger bananas satisfied my hunger for new ingredients. Already a dozen steps away, the proprietor flagged me down, practically foisting the whole box of perhaps 2 pounds of fresh, spicy capsicum into my arms. Okay, I’ll admit- That’s a gross exaggeration, but when asked to take the rest, I instantly felt compelled to oblige. Why would I accept such a dubious “gift,” knowing full well that I barely have a taste for spicy food beyond the most tame scoville level? That’s one I can’t begin to explain or understand, but here I was, saddled with more peppers than one person could ever consume.

Half of the bounty went towards making green sriracha, still fermenting quietly on the counter. Meanwhile, I had grander plans for the other half.

Pepper jam instantly came to mind, but most recipes called for a paltry two or three jalapenos at most, floating in a sea of food coloring. Packing the firepower of a full pound of hot long peppers, this rendition doesn’t mess around. Tempered by a good dose of sugar, it manages to balance the burn with grace, all while combining the nuanced notes of lemongrass, garlic, and ginger. Thai green curry inspired the blend, which means that it works beautifully in the place of traditional green curry paste. Softly set, the jam could be further thickened with the addition of a second pouch of pectin, but the slightly runny consistency is dynamite for drizzling over crostini or fine vegan cheeses. For the more adventurous palate, a sweet and spicy peanut butter and curry jam sandwich might be just the thing to shake off the weekday malaise. Once you start thinking about all the new possibilities, an extra pound or two of hot peppers may not seem like enough.

Sweet Green Curry Jam

1 Pound Shallots
1 Pound Hot Long Green Peppers
1.5 Ounces (About 3 Inches) Peeled Fresh Ginger
4 Large Cloves Garlic
1/2 Cup Sliced Fresh Lemongrass
4 Kaffir Lime Leaves
1 Tablespoon Salt
3 Teaspoons Ground Coriander
1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Lime Juice
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
4 Cups Granulated Sugar
3/4 Teaspoon Spirulina Powder (Optional, for Color)
1* (3-Ounce) Pouch Liquid Pectin (*2 Pouches for a firmer, more spreadable jam)

For proper canning instructions, see the recommendations made by this very helpful .PDF right here. Otherwise, proceed as written to make a quick jam which will need to be kept refrigerated and last for no more than a month or two.

Roughly chop the shallots and toss them into your food processor or blender. A high-speed blender would be best for achieving the smoothest consistency, but a coarser blend can be quite delicious, too. Stem the peppers, remove the seeds, and chop them into smaller pieces before adding them into the machine as well. Follow that with the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. Pulse the machine a number of times to break down the vegetables into a coarse paste. Pause to introduce the salt and dry spices along with the lemon and lime juice, and then thoroughly puree, until the mixture is as smooth as desired. If you’re using a smaller food processor, plan to process the mixture in two batches, blending everything together in a larger vessel at the end.

Have your jam jars out on the counter and ready to go. You’ll want enough containers to hold approximately 8 cups of jam total.

Begin heating the sesame oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it begins to shimmer, pour in the green curry puree, stirring constantly but gently. Add in the sugar and spirulina (if using), and allow the mixture to come to a full boil. All the while, be sure to continuously run your spatula along the sides and bottom of the pan to prevent anything from burning. When the curry has reached a rapid bubble, pour in the liquid pectin and continue to cook for a full 10 minutes. It should significantly thicken in this time.

Pour the hot, liquid jam into your prepared jars and quickly seal them or otherwise process for longer term storage. Let cool completely before refrigerating.

Makes 7 – 8 Cups

Printable Recipe


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Lox of Love

Old Man Winter sure doesn’t fight fair, unafraid to hit below the belt and then kick you when you’re down. Dirty tricks are just half of the relentless assault, adding in mind games that could soften anyone’s resolve to the consistency of over-boiled ramen noodles. Surely, one would think that by the last day of March, spring would have been able to fend off this attack, but the snow currently accumulating on top of the delicate, freshly sprouted crocuses would say otherwise. The month is going out like a lion, indeed.

Beaten and bruised, I officially accept defeat. Winter can continue its reign of terror as long as it doesn’t stop me from dreaming about spring. Let’s forget about the weather, planning instead for the garden parties and spring celebrations that are sure to come. Demanding lighter fare, fresher flavors, and easy offerings to share with any number of hungry guests, the classic brunch spread is where my thoughts wander first. Bagels, cream cheese, and lox are the anchor of this idyllic vision, a taste preference that could arguably have been genetically inherited from both of my Jewish parents. Despite the great advances in vegan food technology, fish have remained largely out of reach, residing only in fantasies… and sometimes a kelp-infused tofu patty that tastes of little more than soybeans and sadness.

Until now.

Sophie’s Kitchen, innovators of numerous frozen fishless delights, has the answer to every pescatarian’s dilemma. As soon as I caught wind of this unrivaled smoked salmon offering, I scoured the stores, only to turn up nothing for months on end. It still eludes me in the open marketplace, but I was lucky enough to score a few packages through my mother’s co-op. Despite being so pricy and difficult to find, the positives far outweigh the negatives, beginning with the high fiber content and soy-free ingredients.

What really matters though is the taste, and let me assure you that it doesn’t fall short. Incredibly, unbelievably, it could truly pass for fish, at least by my inexperienced palate. Woodsy, smoky overtones define these thin sheets, with subtle oceanic notes adding in a touch of realism. Lovely striations embellish the peachy rectangles, presenting beautifully to even the most discerning artistic eye. I’d like to believe that it could almost fool one into believing it came from a new breed of square fish. Satisfyingly rich, with a realistic oily sheen, this salmon substitute has the same bouncy, slippery texture as Sophie’s Kichen’s other konjac creations; not quite authentic, but more than passable, especially when eaten in other recipes or loaded onto a toasted bagel with the works.

Though I would have happily scarfed down my entire cache of smoky, savory slices in the aforementioned bagel assembly, such a rare treasure demanded further experimentation. Harkening back to the classic fish spreads of yore, a creamy base proves to be the perfect foil for these alternative smoky, salty strips as well. Load up a platter with chips and cut vegetables, and I promise that it will be the first thing to go, no matter how discerning the crowd. Beyond the party setting, it’s truly stellar in sandwiches, running circles around the tired old tuna salad.

On the other hand, this dip is a versatile ally, capable of dressing up with great aplomb should the situation demand. Pipe that salmon spread into neatly carved cucumber cups and top with vegan caviar, and no one will be able to contain their awe. Trust me: If you need a recipe to impress, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Fish-Free Smoked Salmon Dip

1 12-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
3 Tablespoons Tahini
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1 4-Ounce Package Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Smoked Salmon
2 Tablespoons Fresh Chopped Dill
1 – 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Thoroughly drain the tofu before tossing it into your food processor along with the tahini, vinegar, oil, miso, and nutritional yeast. Puree until completely smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula to ensure to all the ingredients get incorporated. Make sure that there are no chunks of tofu hiding below the blade before proceeding.

Separate the smoked salmon slices and add them to the mixture, pulsing the machine to break the pieces down but not entirely blend them. You want to leave some texture here, keeping the pieces about the same size as grains of rice. Finally, introduce the fresh herbs, zest, and pepper, stirring them in by hand. The salmon slices are fairly salty as it is, so you shouldn’t need to add extra salt.

Transfer the spread to an air-tight container and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Refrigerated, it should keep for up to a week.

Printable Recipe


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Dazed and Infused

After making a list and checking it thrice, there was nothing left to chance for my extended stay in Hawaii. Everything was accounted for, from sunscreen to snacks to strobe lights, with a dozen backup batteries in between. Even so, that sneaking suspicion that something had been forgotten stayed with me, like a single dark rain cloud in an otherwise pristine blue sky. Some people worry about leaving the lights on, neglecting to take out the trash, or forgetting to lock the doors, but me? It was only when I decided to extend my stay for a second month that I realized I forgot about something very precious in the fridge.

Climoncello. Yes, you read that right: Limoncello‘s clementine cousin, a byproduct of enthusiastic citrus consumption and an inability to throw any viable foodstuffs away. Tearing through my immense stash in record time left countless peels in my wake. Compost seemed like a cop-out for these highly aromatic remnants, especially when they still had so much flavor left to give.

All it took was a bottle of inexpensive vodka to set the creative wheels in motion. Elevating some undrinkable swill and making the most of my citrus windfall in one fell swoop, it was a perfectly elegant solution. Let the concoction steep for a few days, perhaps a week, and my work would be done.

But there it sat, in the darkened corner of the fridge, while I was living it up in a tropical paradise thousands of miles away. Only when one month became two did I realize my oversight, but little could be done at that point. At worst I would return to a rotting, revolting mess of liquid garbage, so I prepared myself for a potentially unpleasant cleanup effort.

Eternally forgetful but incredibly lucky, it turned out the the extra time didn’t hurt my orange-y brew one bit! Preserved by the alcohol and sugar, those scraps looked as good as new, entirely intact yet spent of their fragrant essential oils. Even if the Pacific Ocean wasn’t standing in between this project and me, I wouldn’t dream of letting it stew for a shorter time now.

Climoncello

14 – 15 Clementine Peels
3 1/2 Cups Water
2 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 (750-ml) Bottle Vodka*

*Don’t waste the good stuff on this, since you’ll be covering up any unsavory notes with your citrus infusion. Just stay away from firewater like Everclear, and you should be golden. I used Popov, for what it’s worth.

Place your peels, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, and cook just until the sugar has fully dissolved. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid, and let cool to room temperature. Use a pestle (or any other blunt instrument, really) to mash the rinds around a bit, bruising them to release more of the essential oils. Pour in the vodka, give it a good stir and transfer the whole mixture, peels and all, into a large glass jar. Seal the lid tightly and stash it in a cold, dark place for about three months. Don’t rush it! If anything, you’re likely to get even greater flavors if you let it steep for an extra month or so.

When the climoncello is ready, the liquid should be a golden orange color and smell of sweet oranges. Strain out and discard the peels, and transfer the liqueur to an attractive glass bottle. Store in a cool, dark place for however long you can make it last. It should keep indefinitely, but you’ll no doubt want to enjoy it before too long.

Printable Recipe


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For the Love of Chocolate

There are few universal truths in life, which makes each one of them that much more significant: Spring will always follow winter, love cannot be faked, and everyone enjoys chocolate. If any of those statements can be proven otherwise, I don’t want to know about it, especially when it comes to the latter. Quite frankly, person who claims to dislike chocolate is simply lying, revealing questionable character on their part. Thus, with no shortage of fanfare, Fran Costigan unleashed Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts upon the world, an ode to this “food of the gods” that fully lives up to its title. Every bit deserving of the effusive praise that gushes forth from each breathless review, I can only add my own cheers to the chorus.

Giving credit that’s long overdue, the Aztec Truffles (page 53) were the shining stars in my holiday candy boxes way back in festive days of December. Pressed for time and exhausted of fresh ideas, that surprisingly simple recipe yielded stunning results, above and beyond my traditional approaches. The fiery combination of ancho chili powder and cinnamon gave those tiny chocolate bombs an invigorating kick that all the tired old classics seemed to lack. Though notably soft in consistency, storing the little morsels in the freezer solved all structural concerns while adding a delightfully cool contrast to the punch of bold, smoky spices which paired beautifully with the dark, bitter chocolate.

The standard chocolate recipe by which I judge the merit of any cookbook, bakery, or individual baker is the humble brownie. Let me cut straight to the chase and say that Fran’s Very Fudgy Chocolate Chip Brownies (page 128) passed the test with flying colors. Complete with the elusive crackled top and rich, chewy interior, these simple squares live up to expectations, to say the least. A touch greasy but not prohibitively so, it’s a small price to be paid for ideal brownie indulgence.

Covering a wide range of applications and pairings for chocolate, there are plenty of more delicate, nuanced treats included as well. Case in point: The Chocolate, Orange, and Almond Olive Oil Cake (page 72). Though the name is a mouthful, it’s worth every bite! Impossibly moist, even after days of sitting on the counter, it’s one of those rare cakes that seems to get even better with age… If you can leave it alone long enough for it to mature, that is. Bright citrus notes enliven the almond-infused crumb, and while that would really be enough to satisfy any sweet craving, a thick glaze of chocolate ganache truly puts it over the top.

Coming from the vegan dessert queen herself, I would expect no less than a masterpiece and with Vegan Chocolate, I was not disappointed.


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The Life of Pie

Not all brilliant ideas start out that way. Anyone that’s spent a decent amount of time tinkering with recipes can attest to that, often chalking up more failures than successes despite any amount of experience at the stove. Case in point: This stubborn crusted wonder known fondly as a Caramel Corn Pie, which should have graced the pages of Easy as Vegan Pie.

Conceptually sound yet more temperamental than a 5-year old crashing from a sugar high, it was my problem child of the bunch. After sending it through the ringer with over a half-dozen different trials, completely revamping the base and rendering it unrecognizable from the original approach, sweet relief seemed to be in sight. Handing over the results to my unsuspecting recipe testers, I stood back with a smug sense of pride, awaiting the flood of enthusiastic feedback sure to return in no time.

Needless to say, that was not the case. Still baking unevenly, working in fits and starts, there was no rhyme nor reason to why it would work for some but flop spectacularly for others. Endless last minute tweaks caused it to miss the final deadline for joining the other perfect pies in the book, but finally, a gem I’ve been saving up to celebrate Pi Day (3.14!) the right way, its time has finally come.

For all the love that popcorn wins as a stand-alone snack, you’d think that more treats would seek to share in its reflected glory, utilizing the humble kernel for all that it’s worth. It strikes me as a huge failure of creativity that there aren’t more attempts at popcorn cupcakes, popcorn cookies, or popcorn pies. Luckily, with a bit of custard and caramel, this is a problem we can fix. Notes of burnt sugar compliment a buttery undertone, accented with a good pinch of salt. If you’re craving popcorn, it might be a wise idea to think inside the crust.

Caramel Corn Pie

1 Unbaked Classic Crust (page 36 of Easy as Vegan Pie)

Crunchy Caramel Corn Topping:

4 Cups Freshly Popped Popcorn* (From about 1/4 Cup Kernels)
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Baking Soda

Caramel Corn Custard:

4 Cups Freshly Popped Popcorn* (From about 1/4 Cup Kernels)
2 1/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/3 Cup Cornstarch
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

*To pop your corn, place the popcorn kernels in a medium-size brown paper bag (if you’re not sure if it’s big enough, err on the side of caution and pop the corn in two separate batches). Use scotch or masking tape to seal the bag shut, and put it in the microwave. Use the “popcorn” setting if possible, or set the timer for 3 ½ minutes at full power. When the popping slows to about once every 5 seconds, remove the bag, and open it very carefully, making sure your hands and face are out of the way- The steam can be quite painful! Sift out any unpopped kernels.

The caramel corn topping takes a bit longer to bake than the pie itself, so your best bet is to prepare it in advance. Preheat your oven to 225 degrees and line a jellyroll pan with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Place the first four cups of popped corn in a large bowl near the stove. In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, combine the brown sugar, non-dairy margarine, agave, and salt, stir well and bring to a boil. Cook at a vigorous bubble while stirring continuously for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda. It will foam and bubble angrily, but don’t just stand around and watch it- Make haste and pour the mixture all over the popcorn. Toss to coat each and every kernel, and spread the syrupy corn out in an even layer on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. It will become perfectly crisp once cool, so despite the tempting aroma, resist the urge to take a bite until it reaches room temperature.

Once the topping is baked and out of the oven, increase the temperature to 325 degrees.

Bring together the custard filling by combining the second measure of popped corn and non-dairy milk in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and turn off the heat. Let sit for 1 hour for the corn to soften and infuse into the liquid.

Transfer the popcorn milk to your blender or food processor and thoroughly puree. Give it at least 5 full minutes at high speed to break down the kernels as much as possible, and longer if necessary. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing to get all the liquid out. Discard the solids.

Pour the popcorn milk back into the medium saucepan, and vigorously whisk in all the remaining ingredients for the filling. When perfectly smooth, turn on the heat to medium, and bring to a boil while stirring continuously, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent the mixture from burning. Once the mixture has thickened to the point that the bottom of the pan remains visible when you stir, without the filling immediately flowing back over the surface, turn off the heat and quickly transfer it to your unbaked pie shell.

Bake until custard is set and browned on top, about 45 – 50 minutes. The center should still be a bit jiggly when tapped, much like a cheesecake. Let cool completely and top with a generous mound of the crunchy caramel corn topping before serving at room temperature.

Makes 8 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Working for Peanuts

Let’s start the week out right with something sweet and simple: Peanut butter cookies. They come in all shapes and sizes, textures and shades of brown, and I have yet to meet a single rendition that failed to satisfy. Midterm exams are leaving me with few extra words to extoll the wonders of these nutty morsels, but a ravenous hunger for their gently salted, roasted, and rich flavors. To celebrate the diversity of the classic cookie, I present to you two distinct approaches for fellow equal opportunity cookie lovers out there.

First up, a crisp, buttery, slightly crumbly rendition speckled with bittersweet chunks of chocolate. Perfect to accompany a cup of tea or coffee, they strike me as the perfect treat to power a last-minute study session. Indulgent yet refined, they’re the sort of peanut butter cookies that could effortlessly transition from a standard snack time munch to elegant after dinner offering.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have these soft, chewy, and utterly crave-worthy cookies which conceal a stunning list of healthy qualifications. Created for a demo at the Honolulu YMCA on healthy vegan baking, these beauties are soy-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and if you ask me, entirely guilt-free! Best of all, these babies can be whipped up in a flash, with pantry staples that I always keep on hand.

You can’t go wrong with either peanut-packed delight. The hardest part will be deciding which to bake first!

Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
3/4 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Cornstarch or Potato Starch
1/2 Cup Bittersweet Chocolate Chunks or Chips

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or pieces of parchment paper.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the Earth Balance and peanut butter at medium speed until perfectly smooth and homogeneous. Add in the brown sugar, salt, and vanilla, mixing briefly to incorporate. Gradually introduce the flour and cornstarch to the mixture, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl and ensure there are no lumps remaining. Mix just enough to fully integrate all of the dry goods. Lastly, stir in the chocolate by hand.

Turn the cookie dough out onto a lightly floured, cool surface and roll out to about 1/8 – 1/4 inch in thickness. Sprinkle additional flour over the top of the dough if it threatens to stick to the rolling pin. Use 2-inch round fluted cookie cutters, or any comparably sized shape, and punch out as many cookies as possible. Transfer them to your prepared baking sheets, spaced about 1/2 inch apart. Gather up the scraps, re-roll, and repeat until all the dough is used up.

Bake for 13 – 16 minutes, until just barely golden brown around the edges. Let the cookies finish cooling on the sheets, where they will continue to crisp as they reach room temperature. Once completely cool, store in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks.

About 3 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe

Healthy Peanut Butter Cookies

1 Cup All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a small bowl and set aside. In a separate, larger bowl, use a sturdy spatula to mix the peanut butter, agave, oil, and vanilla, stirring until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous. Add in the dry ingredients and stir until fully incorporated, being careful not to overwork the dough.

Use a spoon to scoop out 1 – 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie and drop each ball on your prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 1 inch of space in between. Use a fork to press a crisscross pattern into the top of the raw cookies, flattening them out slightly at the same time. If the dough sticks to the fork, very lightly grease the tines before proceeding.

Bake for 8 – 12 minutes, until just golden around the edges. Let cool completely before enjoying or storing in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Makes 1 – 1 1/2 Dozen Cookies

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Back to Baking

Is the coast clear yet? Has the holiday sugar overload and palate fatigue worn off? Have the chronic dieters lost their New Year’s resolve? I sure hope so, because I’ve got one killer dessert recipe burning a hole in my archives and I don’t think I can’t wait to share it much longer. Never mind the terrible picture, because this one has inner beauty hidden within every fold.

Singing out with the depth and soul that only dark, sticky molasses can bring to the table, these are not your average plain Jane cinnamon rolls. Boldly spiced with ginger taking the clear lead, cinnamon is still invited to the party of course, but no longer the sole center of attention. It’s finally time for the rest of the well-seasoned entourage to shine, with all their lively, distinctive degrees of warmth on full display. Gingerbread may be most closely associated with the holidays, but if you ask me, that flavor bomb of a spice blend never goes out of style.

With all that goodness contained within the very foundation of the buns, what more could one possibly think of rolling up inside? All it takes is a simple combination of lemon and sugar to really push each yeasted spiral over the top. Brightening up breakfast, dessert, or snack time with a zesty contrast to those darker, richer tastes, any citrus fruit could make for an equally irresistible addition. Don’t stop at dabbling with just orange or lime zest- Tangerine, grapefruit, or even finely chopped kumquats sound pretty tempting, too.

Gingerbread Lemon Buns

Gingerbread Dough:

1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Cube Fresh Yeast or 1 (1/4-Ounce) Packet Active Dry Yeast
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Molasses
2 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Pinch Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
3 – 3 1/2 Cups All-Purpose flour
1 Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Lemon-Sugar Filling:

3 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1 Cup Granulated sugar
Zest of 1 Lemon

Heat the non-dairy milk of your choice in a microwave safe bowl for just a minute to warm, but do not bring it to a boil. Stir in the yeast and let is sit for about 5 minutes until frothy and active. Once re-awakened, pour the yeast mixture into your stand mixer, along with the sugar, oil, and molasses. Mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the first 3 cups of flour, spices, wheat gluten (if using), plus the salt. Make sure that all the dry goods are thoroughly distributed and there are no large pockets of unblended spices remaining. Add the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet, and beginning at the lowest speed, use the dough hook to slowly combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to keep everything incorporated, until the dough forms a cohesive ball. If it still seems excessively wet, add up to 1/2 cup of flour.

Let the mixer continue to knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. You could also knead it by hand; just take 15 minutes to do so instead. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic, and let rest in a warm area for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and turn it out on to a well-floured surface. Roll it out into a rectangle of about 14 x 18 inches. Brush generously with the melted margarine. Combine the sugar and zest in a small bowl before sprinkling the mixture evenly over the entire surface. Starting from one of the shorter ends, roll the rectangle up as tightly as possible, pinching the seam shut when you reach the other end.

Use a very sharp knife to cut the roll into approximately 1 1/2-inch pieces. Fit them into a lightly grease 9 x 9-inch pan, spacing them as evenly as possible. Begin preheating your oven at this point to 350 degrees, and allow the rolls to rise for 45 – 60 minutes before sliding them into the hot oven.

Bake for 25 – 35 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before digging in.

Makes 9 – 12 Buns

Printable Recipe


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The Heart of the Matter

Perhaps I’ve been looking at the Valentine’s Day ritual from the wrong perspective. Instead of recoiling at the sight of puffy pink hearts and greeting cards of dubious sincerity, focusing on the abundance of new opportunities to indulge my sweet tooth would surely help the occasion pass with less pain.

Chocolate truffles and ornate confections are the “traditional” treats associated with this annual love-fest, but my own cravings have taken a turn for the lighter and fresher this year. Wild Frozen Blueberries never go out of style, especially in Hawaii where discovering fresh berries is about as likely as spying Menehune in Waikiki. Postage stamp-sized freezer space be damned, these tiny blue gems were a necessity to squeeze in. Fully stocked on this taste of home, it was a natural decision to go blue this holiday.

Unimpressive, even homely at first glance, the true beauty of this festive cake is revealed within the very first slice. Concealed beneath an ocean of deep blue batter lies heart of gold- Well, golden vanilla pound cake, at least! Talk about a sweet surprise.

Let the lucky recipient believe that it’s a testament to the power of love, or perhaps some wild baking alchemy, but the truth is grounded in good old-fashioned advanced planning. Little more work than crafting two standard, separate cakes, some clever cookie cutter usage and a heaping cup of patience are the only secret ingredients here.

Proving the power of Frozen Wild Blueberries in every moist, tender forkful, what appears to be a modest measurement goes a very long way, translating into volumes of robust berry flavor throughout. Wrapping around the heart-y core in a gentle embrace, the two components meld harmoniously, while nonetheless remaining distinct. They’re a perfect couple if I ever did see one.

Even if there isn’t a special someone to indulge this Valentine’s Day, don’t hide your heart away! Just cut yourself a thick slice of cake and taste the love that only Wild Blueberries have to share, no strings attached.

Hidden Heart Wild Blueberry Cake

Vibrant Vanilla Pound Cake:

1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Vanilla Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Extract

Wild Blueberry Cake:

1 Cup Frozen Wild Blueberries, Thawed
1/3 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 1/4 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

Beginning with the vanilla cake, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. Once the dry goods are well-distributed, turn your attention to the wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the non-dairy milk of your choice with the lemon juice, allowing it to sit for about 5 minutes to curdle slightly. Add in the oil and vanilla, stir thoroughly, and introduce this liquid mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients.

Mix gently with a wide spatula, stirring just enough to bring the batter together with few remaining lumps. Transfer into your prepared loaf pan, smooth out the top, and slide it into the center of your oven. Bake for 50 – 55 minutes, until lightly golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out cleanly. Let cool completely and chill for at least 1 hour before proceeding.

Once your cake is nice and cold all the way through, use a very sharp serrated knife to slice it into 1-inch thick slabs. Take a large heart-shaped cookie cutter that fits within the confines of the slices and punch out your heart shapes; cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees once more and lightly grease another 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

Moving on to the Wild Blueberry batter, toss the berries into your blender or food processor, and thoroughly puree. Slowly drizzle in the water, lemon juice, oil, and vanilla to incorporate. Add in the sugar into the machine last, and continue blending until completely smooth, with just a few visible seeds remaining.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder, soda, and salt.  Just as before, pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry goods, stirring to combine with as few strokes as possible.

Pour a thin layer of the batter into the prepared loaf pan, spreading it out smoothly so that it evenly reaches about ½ – ¾ of a centimeter all the way across the bottom. Retrieve your heart-shaped vanilla cake cut-outs, and line them up in a row along the center. Naturally, they’ll fit if you can arrange them in the same order as they were cut, but it will work just as beautifully if they’ve gotten mixed up too. Pour the remainder of the blue batter around the sides and over the tops of the hearts, being careful to fill up any crevices. Tap the pan firmly but gently on the counter to release any air bubbles that may disrupt the pattern. It’s likely that you’ll end up with some extra batter that won’t fit into the pan; bake it off separately as cupcakes or mini-loaves to enjoy later!

Carefully slide the loaf pan into the oven and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into one of the blue sides pulls out cleanly. Don’t test for doneness in the center; of course the vanilla cake will be done, since it was already well-baked to begin with.

Let cool completely before slicing and serving.

Makes 10 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe

This post was written for and is sponsored by Wild Blueberries, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


20 Comments

Savoring Chocolate

Chocolate goes with everything, or so the enthusiasts proclaim, and for once I’m not here to argue. Though not a rabid chocoholic myself, a square or two of good dark chocolate is frequently the emergency fuel of choice, staving off everything from common hunger pangs to emotional flights of fancy. No stranger to the great range of flavors that can be coaxed from the humble cacao, my greatest disappointment is that fewer feel the need to explore beyond the most commonly accepted flavor pairings. More adventurous confections are beginning to emerge, giving rise to bars dusted with curry, sprinkled with popped amaranth, or blended with beer, but all of these treats still land firmly on the dessert menu. Enough with the candies and confections, just for once! I would challenge those who see chocolate only as a source of sweet gratification to take a walk on the savory side.

To call them “cookies” may be a bit deceptive, but their construction has much more in common with your standard shortbread than any cracker or chip I’ve ever known. Ultra-dark, dry, and slightly bitter chocolate chunks put to rest any preconceived notions of classic chewy chocolate chip cookies- Switching up cacao percentages alone makes an incredible world of difference! Of course, such a small adjustment didn’t satisfy my craving, which is where the unconventional addition of oil-cured olives comes into play. Yes, you heard right: Olives. Briny, rich with oil, vaguely fruity, and very concentrated in their inherent olive goodness thanks to the slow drying process, this salty addition serves to brighten the chocolate while adding a surprising pop of flavor. Catching eaters off-guard at first bite, it won’t be a taste for everyone, but a delight for adventurous eaters seeking something new.

Best served as an appetizer or snack, these delicate cookies shine their brightest when paired with a glass of dry red wine and an equally salty olive-infused hummus on the side. Don’t be afraid to really drive the theme home with a robust tapenade. Trust me, that intense dark chocolate can stand up to anything you throw at it. The saying really is true; chocolate goes with everything, or perhaps more accurately, everything goes with chocolate.

Savory Chocolate-Olive Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Oil-Cured Olives, Pitted and Chopped
2.5 Ounces 90% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Chopped
2 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment and thoroughly cream together the margarine and sugar, until the mixture is homogenous. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, tarragon, pepper, and salt, making sure that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout. Add in the chopped olives and chocolate, tossing gently to coat all of the pieces with flour. Break up any clumps of olives that may remain sticking together so that they’re equally blended throughout each finished cookie. Starting the mixer back up on the lowest setting, slowly incorporate the dry goods in two additions, alternating with the olive oil, until all the remaining ingredients are used.

The dough should be just moist enough to stick together in a coherent ball when pressed; don’t be tempted to incorporate extra liquid! Gather it all up and form it into a log about 6 – 8 inches long. You can choose to either keep your cookies rounded or square off the edges by gently dropping the log on the counter at regular intervals. It’s merely a stylistic choice, so feel free to play around with it. Once shaped as desired, wrap the dough log in plastic and place it in your freezer. Allow at least 2 hours for it to chill, or store for up to 3 months before baking.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or pieces of parchment paper.

Unwrap the chilled dough, handling it as little as possible to prevent it from warming up, and use a very sharp knife to cut it into slices approximately 1/4 inch in thickness. (The cookies pictured above are admittedly a bit too thick- Don’t go too chunky here or they will be very dry and cloying!) Lay the cookies out with about 1/2 inch in between them on your prepared sheets, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until lightly golden brown.

Let cool completely on the sheets before enjoying or storing in an air-tight container.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


42 Comments

Creature Comforts

Undefinable yet immediately recognizable, there’s no sense in wasting many words attempting to define it; it’s a sentiment communicated through taste instead of language. Comfort food is a concept that transcends all cultural and temporal boundaries, no matter what final form it may take. Seasonings change and dishes vary, but the ability to instantly transport an eater to a happier place, at least for the duration of a meal, that remains the same, from the first bite to the last crumb. That’s why it’s never a bad time to delve into Allison Rivers Samson‘s lovingly crafted ebook, Comfortably Yum. A short but sweet compilation of her ten most soul-soothing recipes, Allison manages to cover a wealth of common cravings without wasting a single digital page.

Incredibly, for a category traditionally laden with fats, sugars, and often processed foods, Comfortably Yum avoids those dietary pitfalls by making every recipe gluten-free or adaptable, and only employing the use of coconut sugar as a sweetener.

Call me biased, but I already knew I was in for a treat with this ebook, since I had previously made and photographed Allison’s fresh take on Caesar Salad for VegNews Magazine two years ago. Yes, salad can be comfort food too, and it’s a refreshing to find someone else who agrees! This rendition on the classic leafy blend comes the closest to my childhood memories, skipping all the fussy fare and focusing in on crisp, garlicky croutons and a creamy dressing, boasting a gently oceanic flavor thanks to the addition of briny capers and nori. Who needs anchovy paste when you have such excellent plant-based alternatives?

Vegan Egg Salad is a classic recipe that every cruelty-free cook should have in their arsenal, and this tofu-based interpretation makes a strong case for taking that spot of honor. Naturally, preparation couldn’t be simpler; an effortless dump-and-stir affair brings together a rich blend of vegan mayonnaise, kala namak, and basic seasonings to coat crumbled bean curd and crunchy cubes of celery. The powerfully eggy flavor borne of that combination is unreal, rivaling the aroma of freshly cracked hard boiled eggs. Served on crackers or between bread, I daresay that only the most astute omnivores would even detect a difference.

Finally, for dessert, I couldn’t resist the siren song of the Chocolate Salted-Caramel Pudding Parfaits. Regrettably, perhaps out of impatience or a lack of finesse, mine refused to form the neat, even layers as photographed in the ebook, but none of that mattered when it came time to dig in. Swirls of coconut sugar custard interlaced with cocoa pudding, creating a flavor sensation sure to delight anyone with a sweet tooth. For anyone who fears traditional caramel-making, take heart: The coconut sugar does all the work for you here, bearing a naturally toasted flavor similar to that of burnt white sugar.

Whether you’re staring down a string of snowy days in the forecast or simply want a taste of comfort any day of the week, Comfortably Yum has got your cravings covered. In this winter of particular extremes, Allison has very generously offered to spread the warm, cozy feelings and wants to share a free copy of her ebook with one lucky winner! To enter, leave a comment on this post and tell me about which recipe you’d most like to recreate first. (You can see the full listing if you scroll down here.) Speak up before February 2nd, midnight EST, and I’ll chose a lucky recipient shortly thereafter.

UPDATE: Always ready and willing to help, the random number generator has spoken, and has proclaimed that the winner should be…

The owner of comment #25: greatveganexpectations!

There’s a golden lining to this contest, even if it wasn’t your lucky day. Allison was so delighted by the positive response that she has very kindly extended a $5-off promotion for anyone who purchases her ebook! Don’t wait too long to secure your copy, because this is a limited-time offer. Enter the code “HBCY24″ from now until February 10th to make the most of this delicious opportunity.

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