BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Veni, Vidi, Videri

Why do people save the best for last? As one of those people, I’m not sure I can fully explain the compulsion to leave the very best bite for the end of the meal, or my favorite song for the end of a playlist. This very same impulse to delay gratification seems to get me in trouble at times, particularly when the end is not something clearly defined. Such is the case for many product reviews, languishing on my to-do list simply because the item in question was so good, I want to reserve it as a final reward. In realistic terms though, this just means that the post never gets written because an active blog never ends. That’s the only excuse I can come up with for explaining why these stellar chocolates remained without a proper feature for over two years.

Packaged lovingly with handwritten, individual numbers, one could easily mistake these for jewelry boxes rather than containers for edible treats. Crafted in small batches in Raleigh, North Carolina, Videri is one of the few American bean-to-bar operations. Not all of the offerings are vegan, but the dairy-free options will not leave you wanting. Defined by a clean, crisp snap and smooth melting texture, even a small square promises to satisfy the most voracious chocoholic.

Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt is an instant winner. Large flakes of salt are easily visible on the underside of each bar, immediately hitting the tongue with a strong saline hit. This serves to balance out the overall sweetness beautifully, while eliminating any bitter notes typically associated with dark chocolate.

Classic Dark Chocolate with 70% cacao is the everyday sort of treat that goes well with everything. Slightly woodsy with notes of raisin, the complexity packed into this little bar reminded me of tasting a fine wine.

90% Ecuadorian Dark Chocolate is a seasonal special, and one that you’ll definitely want to take advantage of while you still can. Dry, with a pleasantly bitter edge and slightly tannic aftertaste, this bold bar is not for the timid. Crushing sugar cravings without piling on the sweetness, these powerful chocolates became my secret weapon for vanquishing a snack attack.

Gifted with this wealth of cacao goodness, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take them into the kitchen for a bit of sweet experimentation. Especially in the heat of summer, peppermint patties are one of my favorite treats. Best stashed in the freezer for full cooling effect, I love the way the chocolate shell shatters upon impact, revealing a soft, creamy center with minty fresh flavor. The only thing that could be improved is perhaps the ratio of chocolate to peppermint, which is why I decided to flip the classic patty inside-out. Now, a solid chocolate center is graced by a blanket of white peppermint coating, allowing the chocolate to truly shine.

Inside-Out Peppermint Patties

Chocolate Centers:

6 Ounces 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup

Mint Coating:

1/2 Cup (4 Ounces) 100% Cocoa Butter
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/8 Teaspoon Peppermint Oil

To form the centers, place the chopped chocolate and corns syrup in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for about 60 seconds. Stir vigorously, and continue to heat at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well each time, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and refrigerate until set; about 1 hour.

Roll the chocolate disk out to about 1/4-inch thick and use 1-inch round cookie cutters to punch out the candy pieces. Should the chocolate dough become too soft or difficult to work with, just toss it back in the fridge for another 15 – 30 minutes before proceeding. Once all of the center are cut, stash them in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before getting to work on the coating.

Place your cocoa butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 – 3 minutes, so that it completely liquefies. Whisk in the confectioner’s sugar and mint oil, stirring vigorously to make sure that everything is completely dissolved.

Pull out your semi-frozen patties and dip each into the mint coating, one at a time. Place them back on the silpat, allowing the coating to set. This top coat is thinner than the standard pure chocolate shell, so you may wish to double-dip once the first layer has solidified.

Makes 30 – 34 Patties

Printable Recipe


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A Better Bistro

“Elevated cuisine” is not the bill of fare one might expect to come out of a shoe-box of a food trailer parked in the outskirts of east Austin, and yet Bistro Vonish seems determined to defy such preconceived notions. Redefining the category of fine dining through the lens of a classically trained vegan chef, Craig Vanis isn’t your ordinary line cook either. Propelled by a basic desire to feed others and express his creativity, his true inspirations are diverse, interwoven into the tangle of modern food politics and nutrition. “Food touches everyone, more than just micro nutrients,” he explained to me over a plate of three sisters ragu, a vibrant melange of summer vegetables crowning crispy seared polenta cakes. Clearly, none of this philosophy clouds the flavors in world-class dishes like this one, presented with equal flare on the ever-changing menu.

In sharp contrast to his current surroundings, Chef Craig first found himself in Texas to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer in the oil fields. Laid off after the 2009 economy collapse, that marked a turning point that began in Houston kitchens and ultimately led him back for professional training at the Natural Epicurean School in Austin. This complex path is perhaps what gives the food at Bistro Vonish such a clear and unique voice; there’s no one else with the same formative experiences, and certainly none quite so fervently determined to pursue their passions in the food industry.

Showcasing more than just impeccable cooking skills, the local, organic, seasonal produce dictates the daily offerings. Weekend brunches are a distinct treat, featuring pillowy french toast with homemade fruit syrups, and savory tofu scrambles that would put a plate of eggs to shame.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg, and only the start of greater aspirations for Bistro Vonish. Chef Craig plans to expand into a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant as soon as possible, enlivened with tempting menus that echo the successes of supper clubs past. While it will be difficult to wait for this upcoming new chapter in the Bistro Vonish saga, Chef Craig was generous enough to share his recipe for Grapefruit Panna Cotta; a sweet finale to tide us over until the next meal.


Photo by Craig Vanis

Grapefruit Panna Cotta
by Chef Craig Vanis of Bistro Vonish

1 (13.5-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Agar Powder
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1/2 Grapefruit
1/2 Cup Grapefruit Juice
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
6 Ounces Silken Tofu
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Simmer the coconut milk with the agar powder and sugar for approximately 10 – 15 minutes, to thoroughly cook and dissolve the agar. Blend the simmered liquid with the rest of the ingredients until creamy and smooth. Pour into lightly greased molds or ramekins to set; at least three hours or until firm. Chill thoroughly before serving.

Gently remove from molds and serve with the accompaniments of your choice. Suggestions include candied and fried sage, orange liqueur syrup, and tuile cookies.

Printable Recipe


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Cashew is King

Dense, silky smooth, capable of melting so slowly and seductively across the palate that it seems to linger far beyond the average taste; cashew ice cream has certainly come a long way. Once a mere glimmer in the eye of the mad kitchen scientist who dared venture outside the standard arsenal of readily available dairy alternatives, cashew ice cream has finally hit the mainstream, and in a big way thanks to So Delicious. Textural superiority provides the unshakable foundation for all of these nutty frozen desserts, unburdened by excessive gums or stabilizers like so many commercial options. This attention to ingredient detail allows the most basic of flavors, the vanilla-infused Creamy Cashew, to shine without any adulteration. Similarly, the unfussy Cappuccino boasts a perfectly balanced coffee flavor, deepened by a subtle hint of cinnamon in the afterglow of each frosty bite. What truly sets this line of nut-based pints apart from the pack in the freezer aisle, however, are their bolder, unabashedly indulgent flavor combinations.

Turtle Trails from the original Purely Decadent label has been my top pick for countless years, but now that I’ve tasted the sweet extravagance of Salted Caramel Cluster, I may just have a new favorite treat. So packed full of chunks that it’s difficult to scoop, this pint of cashew goodness is not messing around. Whole, full-sized, plump cashews smothered in crisp shells of dark chocolate litter the landscape, flanked by rivulets of flowing caramel sauce. Notes of browned, burnt sugar define the custard base, spiked with just the right amount of salt to propel the flavor into crave-worthy territory.

Dark Chocolate Truffle succeeds in delivering an equally intense dessert experience as well, clearly formulated with the unreformed, unapologetic chocoholic in mind. Strong chocolate ice cream with devilishly bitter edges cradles thin shards of shaved chocolate that shatter effortlessly between the teeth. Truly an “adult” chocolate ice cream, it would be a disservice to compare it to the average cocoa concoction. The plentiful truffles are even better than those found in the average box of chocolate, especially since you’ll always know exactly what you’re going to get; every scoop is delicious, just as promised.

If simple sugar cookies and cinnamon spice hold more allure when a sugar craving hits, then the Snickerdoodle would be just your speed. Reminiscent of a thick, icy glass of horchata, this comforting blend has the upper hand on the original beverage thanks to the abundant smattering of gluten-free cookie dough pieces found throughout. Each bite maintains a soft, supple chew, no matter how deeply the pint has been wedged into the back of the icebox. I couldn’t help but further the cookie theme by serving up a few scoops as ice cream sandwiches, but the beauty of this variety is each spoonful provides the full compliment of these childhood treats, without the hand-held mess.

Even in the increasingly crowded category of vegan ice creams, So Delicious manages to continue innovating, reinventing itself, and staying ahead of trends while still remaining genuinely delicious. These cashew ice creams deserve a place in your freezer- But I can promise that they won’t stay there very long.


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The Revolution Will Not Be Carnivorized

There’s a tremendous, unfathomable difference between barbeque sauce and real-deal barbeque, period. Having been repulsed by the sticky sugar syrups laced with all manner of offending spices and artificial flavors, I had written off the entire genre for the better part of my young life. BBQ Revolution, a humble trailer based on Manor Road, is most definitely serving up the genuine article, and has changed the way I think about barbeque altogether.

Possessing intense smoke flavors completely unlike those found bottled and stored in your local mega-mart, each bite of protein is a transportive experience. You can taste the full depth of the fire, the kiss of the flames caressing the blend of mesquite and pecans responsible for the resulting rich nuances, infusing their essence into those toothsome meatless morsels. The whole campfire might as well be roaring right at the table, and I swear it’s even possible to taste the glow of the embers as the sauces linger and slowly burn down. Sweetness is the most subtle seasoning of all, applied as a careful finishing touch much like one might regard salt, to balance out those rich nuances built over so many hours of smoking.

Side dishes undeniably play second fiddle to these stellar attractions, as well they should, but that’s not to say that any are left wanting. Creamy, not gooey nor particularly saucy, the subtly peppered mac and cheese is another revelation. Soft noodles readily surrender themselves into the comforting melange. Potato salad is delivered in the form of a slightly chunky mash, bearing the light twang of vinegar. Attention has clearly been paid even to the lowly, pale slivers of white onion. Appearing for all the world to be merely sad bits of garnish, they are in fact fabulously crunchy accompaniments, surprisingly not the least bit sharp or harsh. They were almost overlooked and left behind in all my excitement- what a terrible mistake that would have been.

If there was just one opportunity to eat out in Austin, I would have to recommend that BBQ Revolution be the destination of choice. No one else, near or far, is creating vegan food of any similar sort. The only difficulty is getting there before the hungry hordes descend; it’s not uncommon to arrive well within their narrow window of open hours, only to find that dreaded “sold out” sign already plastered over the menu board. Come early and come often; your perseverance will be rewarded, because there’s no other way to get these essential Texan eats.


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Gems That Rock the House

Inspiration comes in many forms, often unpredictable and unexpected, without any apparent relation to the innovations it may produce. Broadening one’s horizons is the most effective way to home in a completely different creative venture. This is the best explanation I can provide for why I ended up in a metal shop, torch blazing away, for the better part of my spring semester. General craftiness and a penchant for beading runs in my blood, so it seemed criminal to overlook the burgeoning jewelry and metal arts program offered while on campus. With no prior experience, it was exhilarating to literally forge a new path, turning scrap metal into something to treasure. While my wearable work is still quite amateur at best, I found that subtle touches of color can make a world of difference. Thus, it was a stroke of pure luck that House of Gems reached out to me prior to my first class and offered me an opportunity to sample their wares.

Beads and findings of all materials, shapes, and sizes glitter even from the glow of the computer screen on the immense online catalog. Choosing would have been impossible if not for the basic guidelines of JEM 110- Only natural stones or gems would do, as plastics would certainly melt under the temperatures that soldering demands. Though I didn’t know it at the time, my selections would prove to influence a sizable portion of the work to come in the following weeks.

Dubbed “The Crimson Cloud” due to its deep red carnelian rain drops, those stunning faceted beads were the cherries on top of this patina-ed brass sundae. Though time constraints prevented me from completing the pin back as I had envisioned, the possibilities now remain open for turning this midterm submission into a magnet or pendant instead.

Just a simple whimsy made to blow off some steam, silly little side projects like this tube ring were welcome distractions when more complicated techniques eluded me. Admittedly, these beads here are merely glued in place and then lacquered over for security, but I simply couldn’t resist incorporating those brilliant purple sugilite in any way possible. Besides, the copper ring band would need some sort of veneer to become truly wearable, I reasoned.

Making samples of various new concepts as they were taught was an essential component of the class, and I must admit that I went a bit overboard at times. All that was required in this case was a basic example of any functional earring wire, capable of being fabricated in about two minutes, but I couldn’t leave those bare sterling silver strands alone. Very simple textured nu-gold teardrops gleam in the sunlight with the addition of a few smoky, pearlescent labradorite beads. As far as everyday jewelry goes, these unassuming earrings may quite possibly be my favorite creation of the semester.

While I may not have access to the same equipment anymore, I do still have a wealth of stunning stones to spur new jewelry inspirations. This is only the beginning of my metal crafting experiments. With the help of House of Gems, I would love to spur that same drive and ability to create some something beautiful in all of you! All orders over $25 automatically qualify for free shipping in the US, for anything that captures your crafty imagination amongst their vast selection of wares.

No matter what you create, you can’t go wrong with such a vast selection of impeccable craft and jewelry-making supplies to draw inspiration from!


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Kombu, Hidden in Plain Sight

Situated right in the heart of downtown on Market Street, you’d think Kombu would have snagged a prime location, and for all intents and purposes it couldn’t be in a better place. Stumbling distance from both the Powell and Montgomery BART stations, you’d be crazy to walk by without grabbing a seat… Except that if you’ve been in downtown San Francisco recently, there’s a strong chance that you already have, and multiple times at that, because it’s nearly impossible to find. There might be a menu stand out front if you’re lucky, but there’s no sign on the street, and the address is better known for housing an outpost of Equinox Gym. Even after making it up to the fourth floor, you must still suspend disbelief and walk past the casual takeout counter, because what you’re really looking for is just around the corner.

Each item on the menu is clearly composed with intention and care. Numerous vegan options appear in each section, handily labeled, making it easy to dine out with eaters of all stripes here. The views are stunning, especially midday when light streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Quiet, aside from the incongruous mix of 80’s and 90’s pop music, Kombu is like an oasis high above the traffic below.

Falling firmly into the New American category, the menu features locally grown and organic foods in what could best be described as unfussy, elevated comforting cuisine. Each dish is clearly composed with care, from conception to cooking, and I can confidently say that after tasting almost the entire vegan menu, there isn’t one lackluster selection amongst the ever-changing seasonal options.

Appetizers kick off any meal in style, but these introductory gems are tempting enough to draw one in off the street for a quick snack in their own rights. When it comes to the Carrot and Beet Hummus, no beans need apply, because these are actually vegetable-based purees, much lighter and more refreshing than the traditional dip. They’re brilliant alone and even more fabulous mixed together, swirling into a an edible watercolor painting on the plate. Each has a unique earthy sweetness, nicely complimented by the buttery points of toast provided on the side. Truth be told though, all I need is a spoon, since I’d like to order these up by the bowlful.

Providing a bloodless answer to the classic steakhouse starter of steak tartare, Kristin’s playful interpretation of Beet Tartare is much more than your average beet salad. A duet of citrus in the form of orange and grapefruit creates unique nuances in each bite, some more tart or tangy than others, anchored by the tender cubes of red beets. Both earthy and bright, sweet and sour, it’s a bold study in contrasts that ultimately comes together to create an implausible harmony on the tongue.

Moving on to the main event, the Seared Tofu might not sound like much by name alone, but this is not your run-of-the-mill tofu stir fry. Seasoned with finesse, you can really taste the tofu without feeling overwhelmed by the earthy, beany aspect of it. Accompanying vegetables remain crisp and vibrant, featuring a rare example of sautéed kale that hasn’t had the life cooked out of it. The tomato jam-infused rice hidden underneath posseses a firm bite, and the silky miso sauce adds just the right touch of richness and saltiness, like a refined version of dengaku.

What constitutes the ideal veggie burger is a point of contention amongst herbivores and omnivores alike, but I’m happy to report that the Kombu Burger (slider sized as seen above) would definitely pass muster with even the most discerning of eaters. A dense, buttery, brioche-style bun caps off a savory, satisfying patty, seated atop creamy cabbage slaw. It’s very rich all told, but guarantees that those who partake have no chance of walking away hungry. The firm burger holds itself together remarkably well, refusing to crumble under pressure, which is the downfall of all too many lesser vegetable patties.

Tempting fate and testing my eggplant intolerance, the rich eggplant caponata crowning the velvety Polenta was flavorful enough to be worth any amount of pain. Delightfully salty thanks to briny little capers hidden throughout, the dish wouldn’t be the same without them, as they brought out just the right meaty, savory notes to make it feel like a complete meal. Incredibly soothing, easy to eat, but never coming close to approximating a bowlful of gruel, you can truly taste the corn of the polenta base, accentuated by rich vegetable broth undertones. Shatteringly crisp squash blossoms are real gems here, worth of a menu slot all their own. I would gladly order them up by the plateful and munch through them with a drink at the bar.

A glowing, golden mountain of creamy rice, the Saffron Risotto readily flaunts its riches, showing off a treasure trove of spring delicacies at the summit. Morels, maitake, wild asparagus, and impeccably seared fiddlehead ferns all sparkle with a subtle hint of charred flavor. Thick enough to easily eat with a fork, the risotto itself boasts ideally al dente grains thoroughly infused with saffron and cooked to a comfortingly sticky consistency. I only wish there were more of those glorious vegetables found throughout the towering mound and not just on the peak, as it’s a whole lot of rice once the garnishes have been devoured.

Dairy-free dessert choices are a bit limited, but one would never feel restricted once a perfectly chilled glass of either Mango or Mocha Chia Pudding arrives at the table. Rather than approximating tapioca with soaked, whole seeds, this interpretation finds them roughly ground, creating a smooth custard that still boasts a bit of texture. The bright mango flavor is every bit as juicy and sweet as the whole fruit, making it a perfectly refreshing, light finish to any meal. However, chocolate-lovers would be foolish to pass on the mocha version, no matter how filling the preceding meal. Full-bodied 90% chocolate, deep, dark, and intense, shares the spotlight with the bold espresso flavor woven inextricably throughout the creamy melange, managing to compliment one another and not compete.

The true sign of a chef’s skill is their treatment of vegetables, from the most humble to rarefied. Few examples of more perfectly cooked greens, roots, and legumes alike can be found in all of the city, and even fewer opportunities for vegans to partake in those culinary exploits. Don’t be afraid to ask about vegan options should you stop in for yourself; beyond the numerous options that are clearly labeled for every meal of the day, many of the other dishes can be easily converted as well.

Chef Kristen was kind enough not only to share these incredible dining experiences with me apropos of nothing, but offered to extend that generosity even further by giving her recipe for that luscious polenta, in case readers far from San Francisco wanted a taste of their own. Though nothing could compare to the flavors wrought forth by the skilled kitchen staff at Kombu, I’m delighted to have this summery main dish on file to soothe any inconsolable cravings that may strike. It’s worth whipping up in your own kitchen, and ideal for featuring the freshest produce of the season.

Creamy Chive Polenta with Eggplant Caponata and Roasted Tomatoes
By Chef Kristen Thibeault of Kombu

6 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
4 Roma Tomatoes, Halved
1 Teaspoon Herbs de Provence
1 Shallot, Finely Minced
1 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1/2 Cup White Wine
2 Cups Rough Chopped Japanese Eggplant
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 Clove Garlic, Crushed
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Cup Dry (Uncooked) Polenta
1 Cup Unsweetened Coconut Milk Beverage
Black Pepper
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (Optional)
Sea Salt


1. Roasted Tomatoes

Place halved tomatoes on baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. sprinkle with herbs de provence and salt and pepper. Roast at 350 until golden brown and caramelized. Set aside.

2. Eggplant Caponata
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in medium saute pan. Add shallots. Saute until translucent. Add tomato paste and saute until browned. Add chopped eggplant and saute until soft. Add 1 clove minced garlic and saute briefly until just translucent. Deglaze pan with white wine and scrape browned tomato paste from pan to enhance flavor. Reduce by 1/2. Remove from heat and add capers, red pepper flakes (optional) and black pepper to taste. Set aside.

3. Creamy Polenta
In medium sauce pan bring 2 cup vegetable stock, 1 cup drinkable unsweetened coconut milk, 2 tablespoons olive oil and a pinch of salt to a boil. Slowly whisk in 1 cup polenta. Continue stirring until starts to thicken and bubble. Fold in chives. Season with salt to taste. If too thick stir in additional coconut milk to desired thickness. Serve immediately, dividing the polenta amongst four plates. Top with eggplant caponata and roasted tomatoes on side. Finish with drizzle of good quality olive oil.

Makes 4 Servings
Printable Recipe


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Miyoko’s Kitchen, Part Two: Cutting the Cheese

Before embarking on a cheese-tasting journey, one must will themselves to forget everything previously assumed about the essential experience of vegan cheese. Erase those early memories of eating yellow-colored wax back in the early 90’s, concocting funky wallpaper paste in home kitchens during fits of DIY determination, and even the reasonably melted shreds smothering dairy-free pizzas today. Even as a cheese-lover in a previous life, the flavors contained in these small, simple packages are a step up from anything I had enjoyed as a child. With or without that frame of reference, I’ll spoil the suspense right here; anyone with taste buds would be impressed by these offerings.

As mentioned briefly in part one, the whole line of Miyoko’s Kitchen cheeses are cashew-based, seasoned, inoculated, and aged in different ways to create a whole rainbow of flavors. Most wheels are firm, sliceable numbers ideal for fancy cheese platters (or midnight snacking, if your late night cravings are so decadent,) while a solid handful of spreadable options round out the savory portfolio.

Kicking this cheese party off right, I went straight for the High Aged English Sharp Farmhouse first. Posed as Miyoko’s take on the ubiquitous cheddar cheese, this is a lightly tanned, dense, and firm round of cashew goodness. Although there are certain bites that are reminiscent of nutritional yeast, the overall impact is distinctly cheddar-like, landing very close to the promised target. Pleasantly sharp indeed, a subtle vinegary, acidic aftertaste follows each taste, rounding out this nutty study in umami.

The High Sierra Rustic Alpine proved to be a more mild cheese, leading with the salty twang of white miso. Very agreeable and easily paired with just about anything, its neutral base makes it particularly nice with sweeter, fruity accompaniments. If there was ever a “dessert cheese,” this attractive option would fit the bill perfectly. When all was said and done, I came back to this flavor to find that it was the simple, basic, and straight-forward option of the full lineup.

Thoroughly encrusted in herbs, not a spare millimeter of naked rind can be seen peering out from the Country Style Herbes De Provence. Redolent of rosemary and thyme and rounded out with notes of sage, oregano, and lavender, this is one heady bouquet of earthy flavors. Every bite is slightly different thanks to the random distribution of seasonings, but each one guarantees an incredibly well-balanced blend of herbaceous, subtly floral tastes. A very sophisticated offering that speaks for itself, it may very well be best paired with nothing more than a glass of dry red wine.

One of my personal top picks and something of a sleeper hit, Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf certainly made for a stunning presentation. Wrapped in a tender fresh fig leaf, it’s sure to steal the spotlight at any party. Featuring a very fruity, floral aroma, the complex interplay between the savory, creamy cheese and fresh fig leaf is amazing, elevating vegan cheese to a whole new level. If you could only pick one option to show off to all your friends, this is the wheel that I’d pull out to impress eaters of all stripes, omnivorous or not.

Aged English Smoked Farmhouse is described as a substitute for smoked cheddar, but to my palate, it was a dead ringer for smoked Gouda, a beloved cheesy snack from my childhood. The rich, smoked aroma is the real deal; nothing like the shallow flavor of liquid smoke, the pungent savory perfume is seriously strong without being overpowering. Salty, punchy, and bold, I found it impossible to resist as simple, unadorned slices. Shamefully, I must admit that I horded this delicious umami bomb all to myself, unwilling to share even a sliver.

The Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash is a truly unique, innovative wheel that has no equal. A distinctive inky black rind, dark as night, gives way to a creamy beige interior. The taste of ash is surprisingly subtle, considering its striking appearance, lending a faintly bitter and smoky edge to this miso-flavored cheese. Definitely a conversation starter and impressive centerpiece, it’s also one of the harder slicing options to add some textural variety to a well-rounded cheese board.

Turning my attention temporarily to the softer, spreadable options, the pale reddish-orange color gives away the flavor concealed within the Double Cream Sundried Tomato Garlic at first glance. Smoky tomato flavor leaps forth immediately; assertive, with a bold acidic piquancy and subtle peppery notes, even though no pepper is listed in the ingredients. Strong enough to hold its own as a solo topping or sauce, Miyoko’s suggestion of tossing it with pasta is right on point. It needs only a vehicle for enjoyment, nothing else.

Double Cream Chive boasts a strong onion flavor, sharp and assertive, that will play second fiddle to no one. Slather a wedge onto anything, be it a cracker or a rubber tire, and it will dominate the palate. Its flavors blossom on your tongue, becoming more pungent as it warms and melts, revealing buttery, grassy notes almost as an afterthought. A soft, rich wheel with real character, it’s best paired with simple crackers to allow those distinctive flavors to to shine without competition.

Faced with such an embarrassment of riches, the only reasonable thing I could think to do with my treasure was to take it into the kitchen, creating a seriously indulgent and perfectly cheesy dish for the holidays. Brussels sprouts, already enjoying a renaissance in the food world, are made even more irresistible with the addition of Miyoko’s dangerously delicious French Style Winter Truffle Cheese. Very soft, super funky, earthy, and slightly grassy, the buttery notes make it ideal for recipe enhancement. Almost too rich to eat by itself, the truffle essence still shines after light cooking, adding that addictively savory taste to everything it touches.

Shatteringly crisp fried leeks, peppery almonds, and the sweet and sour syrup of balsamic glaze truly gild the lily here, each one used sparingly to allow the creamy gratins to shine. A dish designed for special occasions, the essence of black truffle truly takes it over the top. That said, the basic preparation is so simple that it could easily be paired down as an everyday side. I can imagine that your garden-variety vegan cream cheese could suffice in a pinch… But don’t expect the same deeply satisfying, almost overwhelmingly umami impact as the original.

SPECIAL OFFER! For a limited time, Miyoko is offering BitterSweet readers a rare discount on her unique, cheesy wares. Enter the code “Hannah2015” at checkout for $5 off your order, only until April 1st. Trust me, this deal is no joke, and you’d be crazy not to take advantage of it.

Truffled Brussels Sprouts Gratins

1/2 Cup (4 Ounces) Plain Mashed Potatoes
2 Ounces (About 1/3 of a Wheel) Miyoko’s Kitchen French Style Winter Truffle Cheese
3/4 Pound Brussels Sprouts, Blanched and Halved
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 – 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, Roughly Chopped
1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Grains of Paradise or Black Pepper

Toppings, To Serve (Optional):

Frizzled Leeks
Salt and Pepper Sliced Almonds
Balsamic Glaze

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease 6 small ramekins; set aside.

While still warm, mash the potatoes with the truffle cheese, mixing well so that the cheese melts in smoothly, but not so well that you create wallpaper paste (it will become progressively stickier as you stir, so take it easy!) Fold in the blanched brussels sprouts, followed by the oil, scallions, parsley, miso, and arrowroot, making sure that all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Slowly pour in the non-dairy milk while continuing to stir, and finally season to taste with grains of paradise or black pepper.

Equally distribute the mixture between your prepared ramekins and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, until lightly browned on top. They should still jiggle slightly when tapped, much like a cheesecake, as they will continue to set as they cool. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before topping with leeks, almonds, and balsamic glaze as desired and serving hot. The gratins can be made ahead of time and will keep nicely in the fridge, tightly covered and unadorned, for up to 4 days.

Makes 6 Servings

Printable Recipe

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