BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Tools of the Trade

From the whimsical to the downright frivolous, no matter how well-intentioned, holiday gifts all too often stray into the realm of triviality. Rounding out my unplanned posting week of festive shopping suggestions, I’d like to remedy that dilemma with a battery of truly useful toys, all crafted for the avid cook, baker, and gadget geek at heart. Thermoworks has long been serving professionals in the culinary industry with better methods of temperature measurement, and that very same attention to detail, quality, and durability has been applied to all of their consumer offerings. The beauty of their myriad thermometers is that they’re simply designed, and they simply work.

Whereas the handyman might have his arsenal of home improvement tools, I now have my very own formidable array of food improvement tools. A rainbow of color options draws these diverse offerings out of purely utilitarian territory, injecting a bit of personality into each one. From oven probes to pocket thermometers and everything in between, even I hadn’t realized how many different ways one could take a basic reading for heat. Best of all, each and every model is lighting-fast, delivering the numerical verdict within seconds; a true luxury compared to traditional mercury- or alcohol-filled thermometers that move at a snail’s pace.

If I had to pick just one stand-out kitchen wizard, I’d have to say that the ChefAlarm is my tried-and-true workhorse thermometer. It comes complete with a timer to indicate when your desired temperature is reached, and easily clips to the side of a pot for flawless candy making. Plus, it folds up into a neat little travel case complete with space for the included probe, making it ideal for travel. Perhaps it wouldn’t be at the top of the list for most people planning their vacations, but I already know what I’m packing away into my suitcase for upcoming adventures.

While the precision implied for a recipe requiring a thermometer scares away a good number of cooks, it really shouldn’t be any more cumbersome than breaking out a set of measuring cups and spoons. Thermoworks takes the hassle out of getting an accurate reading, at price points to fit every budget. Now there’s no more excuse for soft-set jellies or burnt hard candies!

These products were all furnished by Thermoworks over the course of a number of years, but all opinions, photos, and recipes are completely my own.


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Mastering the Art of Curry

Ever the skeptic, expectations remained firmly at ground-level right up until the sturdy packing tape was sliced open, revealing a true gem of a holiday gift, securely wrapped in that unassuming cardboard box. Sure, I knew more or less what I was getting when I agreed to investigate the lavish assortment of spices included in the Kitchen Master Curry Kit, but that’s all I had pictured: Loose, uninspiring ingredients, assembled for convenience. Never have I been more pleased to admit being wrong. Complete with a full compliment of pungent, piquant, and bold seasonings, the inclusion of a gleaming stainless steel masala dabba and curry cookbook transform the set into something special. Admiring those exotic flavorings tucked neatly inside their metal compartments, it’s impossible not to feel a growing hunger for some new kitchen experimentation.

Lifting the lid yields a fresh cascade of intoxicating spice aromas, shifting and mingling in different ways with every breath. Even without the colorfully illustrated cookbook, packed with more tempting suggestions than your average Indian takeout menu, any curious cook would be powerless to resist this savory siren song. Granted, the cookbook is not vegan nor does it make any allusions of being so, but it does include helpful notations for those conscious of gluten, plus an indication of spice levels to better suit individual preferences. What it succeeds in beautifully is simplifying essential Indian dishes that are all too often misinterpreted with generic “curry powder,” rather than the nuanced blend of spices that provide their true character.

For the first time ever, my biryani rice (otherwise referred to as “Spicy Rice“) actually tasted like something I might get from a restaurant. The secret ingredient seems to be whole fenugreek seed, an addition that had never before graced my spice pantry. For the true novice, online video tutorials are there to hold your hand, ensuring success for cooks of all skill levels.

Discovering the foundation of classical curry seasonings unlocks a whole world of flavor, no matter what sort of diet the guidebook is written for. Easily adapting the recipe for kefta kebabs (“ground beef or lamb kebabs“) to employ homemade seitan rather than meat, those bold spices shone as brightly as ever in my veganized rendition. Paired with a quick and easy tahini sauce, it could have rivaled any restaurant offerings, if I do say so myself. They may not be the most beautiful of kebabs, but they sure do make up for their lacking visual impressions with an abundance of fragrant, spicy flavors that positively dance on the tongue.

Since it’s the season of giving, consider the Kitchen Master Curry Kit a prime option for any food lover on your list. In case you need further convincing, the whole bundle is currently on sale in the official online store, and I have an additional discount to share with you, my spicy readers. Enter the code “Q5GBI6501A5B” for an extra $11.50 off; enough to easily justify a purchase for someone you love, and perhaps for yourself, too.


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Earthy Elegance

As an avid baker and dessert-lover, it may come as a surprise that the greatest indulgence I can think of is eating something sweet that I didn’t make myself. While I enjoy the process and crave the creative control that starting from scratch always brings, a truly decadent experience is one that doesn’t require any work. Although I always get exactly what I want when I make my own birthday cake, I must admit that there are times when I wish I could just sit back and relax, leaving the heavy whisking to someone else. That’s precisely where Earth Cafe comes in, online purveyors of fully prepared, ready-to-eat, raw, vegan cheesecakes. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of, especially for a vegan eater who grew up in the days of cardboard bran muffins being peddled as “dessert,” for lack of better options. Balancing out wholesome ingredients with decadent flavors, the result promises to impress all palates. There truly is a taste for everyone, and I was lucky enough to snag a bite of four popular flavors.

Impeccable, perfectly applied ultramarine stripes adorn the top of the Find Your Thrill on Blueberry Hill Cheesecake. Whole berries rest near the bottom, adding a punch of fresh, full-bodied berry flavor while the cheesecake base remains fairly plain. Lacking in typical cheesecake tang, I might describe it more as a somewhat firmer cream pie instead. It may be the most visually striking of the bunch, but I felt it left the most to be desired in tasting.

Pale, dusty pink and redolent of vanilla and berries, Strawberry Fields Forever Cheesecake bears a strikingly bright, fresh flavor, just as promised. More of a custard consistency than traditional cheesecake, the soft bite was perfectly silky-smooth and creamy. Incredibly rich, even I could only manage half a slice at most before reaching my limit, and I don’t mess around when it comes to the last course of a meal. Most regrettably though, it was stunningly, almost stupefyingly sweet. It comes as an initial shock to the system, tasting almost like a wedge of berry frosting at first taste, especially after a savory supper. For those who would rather a candy than a cake, this might just deliver exactly that sensation.

Things got much better from here on out. Adorned with graceful decorative swirls, Rockin’ Raspberry Cheesecake definitely had a rhythm and jive all its own. Super sweet raspberry flavor infused this slice, much like homemade jam. The intact raspberry seeds are actually a nice touch here, adding some textural interest and reinforcing the fresh, raw concept, all while managing to make themselves sparse enough to resist sticking in your teeth.

For me, the sleeper hit of the batch was the unassuming Who’s Your Daddy? Carob Mousse Pie. Slightly firmer in texture than the other slices, it isn’t some sad attempt at replacing chocolate, but a whole new world of flavor, complex and delicious in its own right. Tasting primarily of dates and caramel, with warm, woodsy notes reminiscent of chicory to round the whole slice out, it could convert a carob-hater with ease. All it needs is a light sprinkle of flaky sea salt to really take this treat over the top.

Since I do work with dessert so often and have developed some strong opinions on the matter, I would definitely suggest that these assessments be taken with a pinch of salt (perhaps literally, too.) Your mileage may vary, especially when it comes to your level of preferred sweetness. The only way to find out for sure is to give Earth Cafe a taste for yourself! Enter the coupon code “SAVE15” at checkout to snag- You guessed it- a 15% discount off your order.

From one baker to many others, there is no shame in indulging in a prepared dessert, especially when it’s as good as any one of these luxurious slices.

These product were provided by the manufacturer free of charge for the sake of this review, but I was not paid for my time or opinions.


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Food is the Best Remedy

I’ve made no secret of my distaste for “cleanses,” a concept that merely sounds like a thin guise for a more modern interpretation of the classic crash diet. The theory goes that this stringent regimen of fruit and vegetable juices will clean out the digestive system, remove unspecified toxins, and fill the participant with vital nutrients that are otherwise difficult to assimilate through whole foods. Though it may typically lead to weight loss in the short term, any victories over the scale are short lived, as it’s mostly water weight or the result of nothing more than a simple calorie deficit. These attractive quick fixes are impossible to sustain, and every pound is sure to come right back when the devoted juicer returns to their prior eating habits.

That all said, how on earth did I find myself joining forces with Urban Remedy, a company known to push that very dogma, with their rainbow-colored juices packed into attractive plastic bottles? Thankfully, Urban Remedy is a company that believes in choice, and understands that health is not a one size fits all deal, offering so much more than just liquid sustenance. Healthy prepared foods will always be attractive for those crazy days when just throwing together a salad sounds like a demanding task, and having their array of fresh, ready to eat options is an absolute luxury. I was lucky enough to be treated to a few samples of these clean eating options, in addition to their better known line of juices. Just because cleansing is not for me, I won’t begrudge anyone who truly finds it beneficial, but I’m quite happy to cherry-pick the very best drinks as supplements to my daily diet, treating them as snacks and treats along with my daily eats.

Tell me, does this look like a feast or what? Between the Shredded Kale Salad, Zen Salad, and Cauliflower Tabbouleh, I was positively spoiled for choice come lunchtime. That pesky midday meal can sometimes get neglected on my busiest photo shoot days, turning into a few harried bites here and there, so having some truly satisfying sustenance on hand was a greater treat that I can fully describe. As someone who always does all of the cooking, having anyone make a meal for me, no matter how simple, feels like pure extravagance. Best of all, this indulgence is one that comes with no guilt, only pleasure. What impressed me the most was how fresh everything tasted. I would have never thought that anything arriving in a shipping crate could hold a candle to something pulled straight from my fridge, but there was no sad, wilted lettuce or mushy vegetables here. The dressings are packed separately to keep everything crisp, adding a bright, tangy taste only when the time is right. I was especially impressed with the raw cauliflower tabbouleh, each bite leading with lemon flavor and accented with cumin. It’s the kind of side dish that I wouldn’t hesitate to serve to a crowd- If I could be convinced to share, that is.

Before you start thinking that this is still another austere menu of only greens and veggies, I would implore you to check out their ample selection of snacks and desserts. Of the treats that I was lucky enough to sample, the Crème Caramel stands out in my mind as a particularly decadent departure from your standard “healthy” dessert. Thick and silky smooth, the texture was absolutely luscious, bearing a deep, rich, earthy caramel flavor that was accentuated with a touch of salt. Crunchy caramelized almonds added textural interest that made this grand finale particularly irresistible. Those fudgy Almond Brownies are not to be overlooked though; super soft, immediately yielding to the most timid of nibbles, the rich cacao squares effortlessly melt in your mouth.

Without hesitation, I would recommend Urban Remedy to anyone who wants to kick-start a healthy eating program or squeeze in some real nourishment on a busy schedule. Such delicious convenience does come at a price though, which will unfortunately be the single factor preventing me from ordering regularly. Happily, for a limited time, you can snag a discount off your order by entering the code FallSpecial at checkout for 15% off $150, 20% off $225 or 25% off $300 or more. Whether you’re into the concept of cleanses or not, you’ll want to take advantage of this opportunity; this unrivaled marriage of flavor and nutrition is worth every cent.


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Muchas Gracias

Singling out one favorite meal from my summertime jaunt around the 7 x 7 mile peninsula known as San Francisco would be an impossible task. Small but densely populated with more restaurants per square mile than people, or so it often appeared, even the most voracious adventurer could eat out for every meal of the day, and still never come close to exhausting their options. Picking the few gems out from the large swath of mediocre, adequate, or downright disappointing establishments, however, is a far easier task. Gracias Madre ranks very high on my list of keepers, laying claim to one of the top 5 meals I’ve eaten all year, coast to coast.

As part of the Cafe Gratitude empire and having recently expanded to a Los Angeles outpost, it’s likely that even far-flung readers who never plan to visit California have still heard of this storied establishment. It had been on my radar for years, but it had always been buried too deep within the Mission district to warrant a trek, or too busy to afford the wait. At last, the cards we stacked in my favor: It was a perfect, blue-sky day in July, warm enough to suit up with only a light jacket, and the company was unbeatable. Plus, she came with a car.

Sitting in the enclosed porch, we enjoyed a gentle breeze as dappled sunlight filtered in across our table, and a procession of savory delights began to grace our presence. Coconut Ceviche had been at the top of my “must try” list, simply because I had never seen nor tasted such a thing before. Could this tropical fruit really approximate something more oceanic in nature? Long story short: No. However, the flavors rendered from this unlikely combination are from a world beyond that expected flavor palate, elevating the dish into something entirely new. Truth be told, my one criticism was that I wanted more coconut! Each bite was dominated by rich, luscious avocado flesh instead, but that’s hardly something to complain about. Paired with sturdy, freshly fried but utterly grease-free tortilla chips, I could have been perfectly happy to make a meal of this appetizer alone.

But one could hardly turn a blind eye to the rest of the alluring menu. We ordered lavishly, accumulating far more food than any two people should reasonably consider eating for lunch, and yet not a scrap remained at the end of the meal. The Pozole, brought to the table in a great plume of steam, was not something I would have requested unprompted, but it turned out to be a top pick that day. A medley of vegetables and tender hominy mingled in a soothing, tomato-based and slightly spicy broth, topped with a thorny crown of thin tortilla strips. The balance of ingredients was pure poetry, a soup far greater than the sum of its parts.

Our final requests for the day came out in a flurry of small plates. Elote, a classic, beautifully simple preparation of grilled corn and Mexican cheese, has always been out of reach due to the dairy component, so it was a true pleasure to finally sink my teeth into that cashew cheese-smeared cob. The smoky, toasted kernels were perfectly cooked, plump and lightly charred, but the real star was that cashew crema. Upon asking the chef what magic went into such an ethereal condiment, he graciously laid out the entire recipe for us. Ready with you paper and pencil? Here’s how it goes down: Soak a bunch of cashews over night. Drain them. Add a bit of ancho chili, salt and black pepper, and blend them with a splash of fresh water until silky smooth. And that’s all he wrote.

Simple Greens Con Chile y Ajo were easily a step above your average sauteed kale, sparkling with crisp pepitas and carefully applied touches of spice. Always well seasoned but never hot, per se, these small touches proved the true finesse of the kitchen. Escabeche, pickled vegetables, rounded out our midday feast with a pleasing salty side, but were largely an unnecessary accoutrement to this lavish spread.

While I’m not about to start picking favorites, I will say that Gracias Madre is easily near the top of my hit list. If you’re ever in town, consider if your duty as an eater of any dietary designation to try it out at least once.


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Whipped Into Shape

So Delicious is on a tear lately, introducing greater innovations faster than grocery stores can stock them all. In the midst of this dairy-free influx, the much-loved seasonal beverages have returned once more, but that’s not all. My tall, frosty glasses of Pumpkin Spice Beverage will all be sporting stately white coiffures this year…

CocoWhip, the very first commercial analog to Cool Whip, beats the fluffy white pants off the competition in every way imaginable. Taste is pretty much a given at this point; based on prior So Delicious creations, I would expect nothing less than each bite to live up to its namesake. Subtle hints of coconut remind the lucky eater that they’re eating an actual food item, rather than some chemical concoction of unknown origin. Bearing a distinct cooling sensation on the tongue, it does, in fact, stay true to the Cool Whip theme, clearly distinguishing it from homemade coconut whipped cream. A lighter, airier but not insubstantial texture defines this brave new entry into the world of dairy-free delights.

Offered in both an Original and Light rendition, I found the original to be the perfect ready-to-use dessert topping of my dreams. Maintaining perky peaks on top of every dollop, it stood the test of time, refusing to melt under pressure. The light version was a bit less robust, approximating softly whipped cream or perhaps clotted cream more closely. Though initially disappointing, I realized quickly that this looser CocoWhip was a prime ingredient, waiting to be turning into something much greater than it could become as merely a dessert topper.

A beauty to behold and a treat to partake in, the real secret to this fluffy frozen pie is how laughably easy it is to whip up. If you’ve ever stood in a kitchen, even once in your life, I think you could manage this recipe with aplomb. Plus, since it’s based on yogurt and jam with no additional sweeteners to speak of, I would feel entirely justified slicing off a generous wedge for breakfast, lunch, or dessert alike.

As the seasons change, this same formula can be adapted to any flavor variations your cravings demand. For example, opt for plain vanilla yogurt in the base while swirling in pumpkin or apple butter to effortlessly compliment any Thanksgiving or Christmas table. That’s only scratching the surface of what’s possible with this versatile, innovative ingredient.

Berry Froyo Chiffon Pie

Graham Cracker Crust:

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

Berry Froyo Filling:

1 9-Ounce Container Light CocoWhip, Thawed
1 6-Ounce Container Almond, Coconut or Soy Strawberry Yogurt
1 6-Ounce Container Almond, Coconut or Soy Blueberry Yogurt
1/2 Cup Raspberry Jam or Preserves

To Garnish (Optional):

Original CocoWhip, Thawed
Fresh Berries

To make the crust, break up the graham crackers into smaller pieces before pulsing in a food processor until very finely ground. The resulting crumbs should be about the consistency of coarse almond meal. Pick out any larger pieces and re-process as needed.

Drizzle the melted margarine into the crumbs, and stir thoroughly to moisten the ground cookies. The mixture should be capable of sticking together when pressed.

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 edges.

In medium bowl, combine the CocoWhip and both yogurts, folding gently with a large spatula until well-blended. Be careful to stir gently so as not to knock all of the bubbles out of the airy, whipped mixture. stir with whisk until blended. Spoon into crust. Add in the jam or preserves last, mixing just enough to incorporate but leaving it slightly marbled throughout the filling. Transfer to your prepared crust, smooth over the top, and move the whole pie into a flat surface in your freezer. Let rest until solidified; at least 4 – 6 hours.

To serve, simply slice the pie into wedges and top with additional dollops of CocoWhip and fresh berries, if desired.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


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A Novel Approach

If there’s anything better than ice cream, it could only be ice cream on a stick or in a sandwich. Classic novelties have taken advantage of this fool-proof path to frozen dessert perfection, but few truly make the most of the unique, single serving presentation. Finally daring to innovate beyond two chocolate wafers filled with vanilla ice cream, some very exciting developments are turning the marketplace into a very sweet scene, indeed.

So Delicious has certainly been busy in recent days, and my backlog of photos provides ample evidence. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their latest innovations I have on deck for review! Truth be told, the above coconut-based Mini Organic Bars were first devoured back in January, while I enjoyed my time in Hawaii, and the hottest winter I’ve ever experienced. The perfect foil to a sweltering afternoon in the sun, it was hard to pick a favorite between the Just Java, Simply Strawberry, and Fudge Bars, but I quickly found that I really am a coffee-lover through and through. It won’t pummel you with high-octane espresso flavor, but a creamy, sweet, and smooth cappuccino flavor that’s perfectly suited for a light midday snack. For you coconut-haters out there, never fear: I couldn’t detect even a hint of coconut flavor in these babies, unlike the other two options.

Tofutti has been in the dairy-free dessert game for decades now, the veteran in the rapidly shifting field of prepared vegan food stuffs. The masterminds behind these particular treats definitely know what they’re doing, using the same formula that’s survived countless food trends and collective dietary changes. Although best known for their pints, Tofutti Cuties in all their myriad flavors will always hold a special place in my heart. Way back when BitterSweet was but a wee speck on the interweb, those sweet ice cream sandwiches were some of the very first products I ever reviewed. If you unwittingly clicked to read that flashback, I must apologize: Your eyes are likely burning by now from those gruesome photos.

Back to the matter at hand, the varieties have come and gone over the years, and remaining flavors can prove rather elusive. Although I can find their take on the golden standard anywhere I shop, more fanciful concoctions are harder to come by. Case in point, I could only get my hands on the Key Lime and Wild Berry Tofutti Cuties when the kind PR people offered to ship them directly. Granted, this was [shamefully, regrettably] over a year ago, so I’m not even sure if they still exist in the wild. For my own sake, I sure hope they do, because both were unforgettable treats with no equals in mainstream markets. Particularly drawn the to key lime, zesty citrus ice cream provides a bright, tangy contrast to the buttery vanilla cookies. Bearing a satisfying soft bite that is easy to sink your teeth into, the refreshing combination is far more complex than your average child-focused novelty. A new personal favorite from this steady, old school brand.

In case you thought that ice cream was just a summertime treat, then I’d like to introduce you to the most creative, daring frozen desserts to be found in the freezer cases this year: Halloween themed, coconut-based Pumpkin Spice and Candy Corn novelties, made by none other than So Delicious. These are brilliant for their adorable shapes alone, but needless to say it’s the taste is what puts them over the top. The adorable pale orange pumpkins are unsurprisingly flavored exactly like their Pumpkin Spice Beverage, only frozen, of course. Rich and decadent, they definitely feel like a seasonal indulgence, despite the low caloric price tag.

Candy corn was the real wild card here: Would it truly taste like candy corn? The chocolate crown suggested otherwise, but I held out hope for something more reminiscent of Indian corn instead of the classic. (Those were always better, anyway.) For better or for worse, depending on your stance toward the much reviled or beloved confections, these frozen novelties do not taste like actual candy corn. The white stripe is a simple, straightforward vanilla ice cream, but things get considerably more interesting towards the orange base. Immediately familiar yet indescribable, I couldn’t quite pin down what I was tasting… And then it hit me. Orange creamsicle! This was the creamy orange ice cream, long since discontinued, that I devoured without restraint during my early college days. Stuffing myself with both the scoops and pops, having that cool, sweet treat to look forward to after classes was the highlight of my day. Oh, the joy of being reunited, if only for a few fleeting stripes!

It’s never been easier to stay cool, even without scooping a single spoonful. Considering the rapidly expanding field of delicious options to choose from, there’s easily something for everyone to enjoy, no dairy need apply.

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