BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Sucré: A Sweet Boutique

When words fail and sweeping gestures go unnoticed, a little square of chocolate can warm the iciest of hearts. Not just any chocolate will have this same miraculous effect; quality truly counts here. To deliver a single perfect bite, the ideal snap and melt, that flood of unadulterated cacao bliss, you must know how to pick and choose your chocolate ally. Even for the unromantic and Valentine-immune, it’s no secret that the gift of chocolate can score serious brownie points, no matter who is the recipient.

Based in New Orleans, Sucré takes the guess work out of selecting sumptuous treats. Available both locally and through mail order, all of their tempting offerings are just a few clicks and a few days away. Some might say there are slim pickings for vegans here, offering only two options in total that are free of dairy and eggs, but those two are more than enough to sate the discerning sweet tooth.

Though taste will always trump all fanciful facades, it’s impossible not to be wooed by the beautiful packaging surrounding the Coconut and Toasted Almond Bar. A cut-out window provides glimpse of the bar within its turquoise box, teasing with a flawlessly tempered surface and a hint of the goodies sprinkled on top. The bottom is really the top in this case, revealing a slightly scuffed break-away design on the opposite side, but such an imperfection is barely worth noting. The easily snapped squares will hardly stick around long enough to be examined that thoroughly. Melting readily over the tongue, this bar packs a serious cacao punch, coating the whole mouth with deep, woodsy, and slightly smoky dark chocolate flavor. Fresh, crisp almonds and shredded coconut add a bit of crunch and interest to the party, but are overwhelmed by the strength of the chocolate. Although they get top billing in the title, they’re bit players at best. At the end of the day, it’s just all about the chocolate.

Utilizing that same rich chocolate, the Dark Chocolate Bark is also worth a taste (or five.) Each generous shard is positively stuffed with goodies; a varied mix of roasted cashews, whole almonds, pistachios, pecans, and dried cherries litter the cacao landscape. It’s the pinch of salt over the top that really allow all those flavors to pop, lending a brightness that the plainer bars might have lacked. For better or for worse, this only leads to creating an even more addictive sweet snack, and I could barely stop myself from popping piece after piece. Incredibly well balanced for containing so many disparate ingredients, sweet chewy fruits perfectly contrast with the gently bitter edge of cacao, while the crunchy nuts lend a nutty, toasted essence to the mix.

I’m typically not one to sit down and snack on straight chocolate, but Sucré‘s confections are a completely different story. Valentine’s Day is not a big event on my radar, but I would certainly give it more attention if it always involved this kind of instant gratification.


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Egg, Spelled with a “V”

Considering the frequency in which the issue of replacing eggs pops up, for both new and seasoned vegans, it’s surprisingly that few comprehensive solutions exist. There are certainly many methods, fully satisfying the need for egg-flavored dishes or the binding power they bring to baked goods, but there has been no single approach that could claim success in complete egg replication. Let’s be honest here: Mashed bananas are really not like eggs. Delicious in certain cakes, yes, but limited in their utility beyond that. Powdered “egg replacers” gave many confounded bakers a hand in converting family favorites over the decades, but these still had severe shortcomings. Lacking body and flavor, the results were never exactly the same. Such a complex ingredient seemed to have no equal, either naturally or chemically composed.

The Vegg wants to change all that. Claiming to be the “world’s first vegan yolk,” it’s currently the only product that strives to mimic not only the taste of eggs, but the physical properties unique to the yolk. One of its most impressive claims to fame is its ability to make perfectly round spheres, just like you might find in a soft-cooked sunny side-up egg, or the tender center to a poached one, bursting with golden goo when punctured.

I wasn’t nearly so ambitious though. Naturally, my first impulse was to crank up the oven and see what this unassuming powder could do. Using the prescribed 1 teaspoon of Vegg to 1/4 cup water, it’s reassuring to know that a little bit goes a very long way. Undeniably sulfuric in aroma, it was pungent enough to make me do a double-take. Of course, I couldn’t just toss it into any old cookie dough, but an egg-heavy batter that depended on the unique proteins that traditional yolks would bring to the party. After blending the Vegg mixture for a full 10 minutes, it was clear that it would not be whipped. Scratch those plans for sabayon.

Although the cookies worked, they were not the crackled, glossy-topped little numbers I had been pining after. Additional experiments to make a Vegg-based nog confirmed that it was better suited for more savory applications. Drinkable but not quite delicious, consider it an act of kindness that I’m not sharing any photos of the murky, brownish beverage.

Speaking of savory dishes, perhaps you recall the passing mention of my product and recipe article in Laika? Well, that recipe is none other than my Omelette Roulade, a large baked rectangle of Vegg wrapped around an umami-packed spinach and mushroom filling. Talk about a passing the test with flying colors- There may have been a genuine victory dance involved when the eggy sheet was fully rolled. Breakfast and brunch may never be the same with Vegg on hand. A compelling reason for any remaining holdouts to finally go vegan, this perfectly imitates the slightly salty, funky flavor that many fear they will lose when the give up eggs.

Finally, in the ultimate test, I threw down the gauntlet. Carbonara, the classic pasta preparation bearing a raw egg sauce, has proven impossible for decades. Sure, very creative vegan solutions exist, but most renditions end up erring closer to creamy alfredo than carbonara. Topping my glistening bowlful of noodles with homemade coconut bacon, the first bite was taken with great trepidation… But I can assure you, the rest were shoveled down enthusiastically. I may have little experience to base my assessment of the carbonara on, but I can tell you with certainty that A) I’ve never had anything like it since going vegan, and B) I would make it again in a heartbeat.

Linguine alla Carbonara

1/2 Pound Linguine

2 Tablespoons Melted Non-Dairy Margarine or Olive Oil
1 Small Yellow Onion, Finely Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
1/2 Cup Plain Vegan Creamer
1 Tablespoon Brown Rice Miso Paste
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Vegg

Fresh Parsley, Chopped
Coconut Bacon, or Any Vegan Bacon Substitute

Cook and drain your pasta according to the directions on the box; set aside.

In a medium skillet or saucepan, heat the margarine or oil over medium heat. Add in the diced onion and saute for about 3 minutes, until softened. Toss in the garlic next, and cook until aromatic and just barely golden, but not browned, all over.

Meanwhile, place the stock, creamer, miso, and pepper in your blender, and briefly blitz to combine. Then, with the motor running on low, slowly sprinkle the Vegg powder into the center of the canister to incorporate. If using a Vita-Mix, aim for the center of the vortex to prevent it from merely sticking to the sides and clumping.

Gently pour the Vegg mixture into the pan of aromatics, whisking to incorporate. Continue cooking, stirring periodically, until the sauce thickens and bubbles break rapidly on the surface. Pour the hot sauce over the cooked pasta, toss to coat, and portion out onto plates. Top with parsley and your “bacon” of choice, and serve immediately. It will continue to thicken as it cools, and doesn’t make for great leftovers. The noodles will glue themselves together after a trip to the fridge, so enjoy right away.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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An Edible Mosaic

Cookbooks of every subject imaginable fill my constantly growing collection, an all-inclusive library of texts big and small. Predictably, the vast majority bear not even a passing mention to meat or dairy products, but it may come as a surprise that I don’t buy exclusively vegan cookbooks. In fact, part of the fun is finding something new that hasn’t yet been made in a vegan format, or provides new insight on why particular techniques evolved throughout the years. Particularly true of “authentic” recipes from other cultures, it really is much more effective (and delicious) to go straight to the source.

In the case of An Edible Mosaic, the source turns out to be close to my heart, if not in physical distance. Faith Gorsky, food blogger extraordinaire, talented photographer, and now accomplished cookbook author has been churning out mouth-watering dishes for years, sharing them with infectious enthusiasm. Showcasing all of her skills in one gorgeous hardcover text, it doesn’t take a cook or a foodie to appreciate the luscious photos within. Lavished with full-color images throughout, it would be a worthwhile investment if only as a coffee table book.

Happily, An Edible Mosaic is worth far more than that, as my first pick of Garlicky Potato Dip (Mutabbal Batata) (page 67) made readily apparent. Easily veganized by swapping in vegan yogurt, the whole recipe came together in a snap. Redolent of robust garlic essence, the thick potatoes make for a very rich, intense eating experience. Continuing to thicken as it cooled, and even more so after a rest in the fridge, it did seem like passing off mashed potatoes as a dip. A topping of spicy olive oil is a must for added contrast. Fresh herbs do wonders to brighten up the whole combination, although I did of course skip the cilantro in favor of parsley. While excelling in flavor, a bit more yogurt might improve the texture, helping to reinforce its place on the hors d’oeuvres tray rather than the dinner table.

Shawarma is one dish that is still hard to find without meat, and even harder to find done right. With Faith’s spicing guidelines in hand, the Spiced Shawarma Chicken Wraps (Shawarma Dajaj) (page 92) were the perfect opportunity to attempt making my own vegan version. Favoring rehydrated soy curls rather than poultry, the remaining procedure was just as simple as promised, yielding great rewards for such little effort. My only other alterations were the standard yogurt switch and baking for only 30 minutes, since the curls didn’t need to be “cooked through” the same way as meat would. Quite frankly, this was awesome. Killer spices, so much better than anything I had previously muddled together, make this dish a success no matter what you cook in them. Wraps aside, I would gladly devour those soy curls in salads, over rice, or by themselves. That marinade will go on to cover countless proteins to come, no doubt about it.

The Creamy Garlic Sauce (Toumieh) (page 24) served on the side, however, wasn’t entirely a resounding success. Granted, the Garlic Mayonnaise was recommended for serving alongside the wraps; veganizing the sauce was a more direct conversion, thus making it a better representative of the original recipe. Made for garlic lovers only, this will give you dragon’s breath of the best sort! Intense, ridiculously creamy and buttery, it is dangerously addictive. The trouble was in viscosity. Despite adding the optional [vegan] mayonnaise for thickness, the mixture just refused to bulk up, and furthermore insisted on separating after even a minute of inactivity. That sure didn’t stop me from relishing it as a salad dressing at many later meals, of course.

Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions (Mujaddara Burghul) (page 82) is the world’s most perfect meal, by my uninformed estimation. Think about it- How many other dishes can boast such well-balanced nutrition, between the hearty whole grains and tender, protein-packed lentils? Top it all off with aromatic spices and irresistible caramelized onions, and you’ve got a dinner that’s both well rounded and unconditionally delicious. Everyone loves this classic, which makes its accidentally vegan composition that much more delightful. I’ve eaten many a bowl of mujaddara in my day, and this one definitely ranks up in the top three. Flavored mostly with warm, toasty cumin and a gentle accent of cinnamon, it works beautifully for lunch or dinner, hot or cold. This dish knows no boundaries.

Spices are of course so critical to Middle Eastern cooking, and Faith manages to make all of the combinations both approachable and accessible. My one main criticism, however, is the way that the main spice mixtures are laid out in the beginning of the book. I feel as though I’m constantly running around in circles trying to complete one mixture, as many redirect to other spice recipes, not once, not twice, but in a few cases up to four times. Personally, I wish they were all just written out in entirety, even if it would seem redundant.

All told, An Edible Mosaic is a cookbook that everyone can enjoy. Meaty or milky recipes can be modified with just a little creativity, so vegans need not avert their eyes. It’s a small challenge with a huge payoff, as you will surely be able to taste for yourself.


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Tall Tails

Not one to dwell on the negative, there are still countless happier things to share. It’s the first of December after all, prime time for merriment and holiday spirit, no conditions required. Normally, I’d be the first to snark about the rampant consumerism that hollows out these events into shallow dates that only manufacturers can celebrate. This year, however, it all feels different. Homemade gifts are great, still the best choice, but if you want to buy shiny new toys for every last person on your list? More power to you. If retailers want to tempt shoppers with deep discounts? Fantastic, grab those deals while they’re hot. If that’s what makes the holidays real, if that’s what feels right, then what on earth is so bad about that?

So in the spirit of gift-giving, I’m delighted to share these adorable MugTails by Korin. This sweet set of two bushy-tailed squirrels arrived on my doorstep as an early Hanukkah gift, but it would seem greedy to keep both matching cups. That’s why I’m giving one away, no strings attached. Anyone can enter since I’m able to ship it directly, no matter where you live. Just be sure to leave me a comment before midnight EST on December 8th with a valid email address in the appropriate box. Anything goes, but if you’re feeling short on words, tell me what’s at the top of your wishlist.

UPDATE: And the winner is…

Commenter behind door number #38! That means that andrea, you’ve scored yourself one adorable little squirrely mug! Congrats, and keep your eyes peeled for an email from me shortly.

In case you haven’t figured out your entire shopping list yet, I do have an additional suggestion: A cookbook! Yes, one of my cookbooks would be particularly lovely. In fact, to further sweeten the deal, I’ll send you a free signed bookplate if you purchase any one of my books (My Sweet Vegan, Vegan Desserts, or Vegan a la Mode) through the month of December, 2012. This one I must unfortunately restrict to residents of the US only. Once you’ve purchased your book, email me at hannah @ mysweetvegan . com (no spaces) with either a screenshot for online purchases or an image of a scanned receipt.


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Blog, Interrupted

Breaking such a long stretch of radio silence and launching right back into the regular routine is proving far more difficult than first imagined. Even with an abundant backlog and ample time carved out for writing, the words still won’t manifest into satisfying sentences. A little over one week without blogging is all it takes to shatter the easy flow of ideas and photos, it would seem. While I’m still struggling to get back on my feet, the pile of material only grows, pushing against the impulse to curl up in bed and shun all critical thought. That’s a good thing.

One time-sensitive piece that is begging to be shared, asap, is the launch of So Delicious‘ brand new Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk Beverage. Originally I had wanted to nominate this beverage as the unofficial nog of Halloween, but since our town’s spooky celebration was canceled for yet another year, it’s just as well that this is a drink suitable for any festive events. Powerfully rich and thick enough to coat the palate with one sip, this is not a drink to mess around with. Sweet as a dessert in itself, a straight shot of this autumnal treat reminds me of melted ice cream. Truth be told, it’s so sugary and viscous that I’m not sure I would recommend sipping it plain. Rather, it’s the kind of ingredient begging to be cut with a shot of espresso, or spiked with a splash of rum.

Lightly seasoned with warm spices, cinnamon leads the pack of usual suspects, ginger and nutmeg. My biggest disappointment is that despite listing pumpkin as an ingredient, the squash flavor is entirely absent. Perhaps an added pinch of salt would help awaken those more savory notes, but at least an effort was made to go beyond the typical artificially flavored route.

To make the Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk really shine, it simply must be used in baking or cooking. Imagine using it to soak French toast, instantly creating a custard without any further prep necessary. Or consider tapioca pudding with a spicy, autumnal twist. What about caramels, where any cream or coconut milk could easily be swapped out for this treat instead? Though it may not succeed as a drink by itself, it certainly has enough culinary potential to warrant a place in your fridge.


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The Big Cheese (Aged to Perfection, Part Two)

For fear of inadvertently turning a little review post into a long, drawn-out novel, the urge to insert flowery prose was kept in as close check as possible. Still almost double the girth of the average article around here, it was a behemoth alright, providing plenty of info to chew on over the weekend. Countless tiny tasting notes abbreviated or discarded, I was ready to call it a day, mark this book done, and revisit it at leisure. Cleaning files and photos, it was with horror that I discovered my omission. Shortened text is one thing, but an entirely forgotten recipe trial and photo? Not on my watch.

Slipping through my fingers for a second time, I suppose, there’s a very good reason why the Air-Dried Cheddar (page 30) missed the boat on the original posting; it was ugly as sin. So ugly, in fact, that I couldn’t manage to capture any remotely appealing picture of it whole. Greasy to the touch, crackled and flaking on the outside, it was the only block of cheese that somehow picked up a little spot of mold as well. Gamely cutting out the offending fuzz, at four days in, it smelled more like yeasty bread dough than cheese. I did not have high hopes for this experiment. Although not nearly firm enough to shred or slice as promised, it was pleasantly musty in a ripened cheese-sort of way. Tasting more like traditional vegan cheeses of yore, it leaned heavily on the nutritional yeast addition, skewing it further from an authentic flavor than the previous recipes. Admittedly, I may have enjoyed it more straight out of the pan prior to aging, but it still had great potential once cured.

Making the first thing that comes to mind when anyone mentions the word “cheddar,” a lightning-fast batch of mac and cheese saved the day. Thickly coating al dente pasta in a creamy blanket, any small disappointments could be forgiven, bringing out its full culinary potential.

Easy Cheese Sauce

8 Ounces Air-Dried Cheddar from Artisan Vegan Cheese (page 30)
1 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
Pinch Smoked Paprika
Pinch Turmeric, Optional (For Color)

Break the cheddar into chunks, and puree all of the ingredients thoroughly until completely smooth. Transfer to small saucepan and heat, stirring occasionally, just to warm it through.

To make an almost-instant mac and cheese, toss one batch of sauce with about 1 pound of cooked pasta and serve immediately.

Makes About 3 Cups

Printable Recipe

Finally, because a recipe is a terrible thing to waste, I feel duty bound to share my approach to the famed aligot. Take my word though, it’s no mere variation on mashed potatoes; these spuds are far richer than any mere mashers could hope to be, even in the hands of Paula Deen. Dole out conservative portions, if you dare…

Aligot

2 Pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes, Peeled and Diced
1 Clove Garlic, Sliced
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
3/4 Pound Emmentaler from Artisan Vegan Cheese (page 32), Diced
1/4 Pound Brie from Artisan Vegan Cheese (page 12), Diced
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to Taste
2 – 3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk

Fill a large stock pot with water and toss in the prepared potatoes and garlic. Set over moderate heat and bring to a boil, cooking until the spuds are fork-tender. Drain thoroughly before transferring the cooked potatoes to the bowl of your food processor.* Toss in the margarine and both cheeses, pureeing until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, and thin out with non-dairy milk if necessary. Continue processing for an additional minute or two, until silky, ribbon-like strands form when scooped up with a spoon.

Serve immediately while still hot.

*Yes, I did say food processor. This breaks all the known rules of mashed potato-making, but remember, this is aligot, not mashed potatoes. You want them to end up rather sticky, stretchy, and gooey.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Aged to Perfection

Hard pucks of florescent yellow plastic; waxy, limp shreds that are more likely to burst into flame than melt in the oven; odd imports that carry a price tag equivalent to edible gold. It’s hard to believe that only a scant few years ago, this was the array of options for the pitiful vegan craving a taste of something cheesy. We’ve come a long way, baby, and we’re not done yet. Achieving mainstream acceptance of a meltable, palatable vegan alternative seemed like the climax of the story, the best that anyone eschewing dairy could ever hope for, but now Miyoko Schinner has gone and raised the bar once more.

In many ways, Artisan Vegan Cheese reads like the sequel to The Uncheese Book. Recipes are largely nut and agar based, but where it diverges drastically is in technique. Probiotics are added to the mix in the form of either vegan yogurt or rejuvelac, both of which have their own recipes for making at home for the avid cook. Cheeses are aged, just like in traditional processes with dairy milk, which allows for development of those tangy, funky flavors that simply can’t be replicated by any simple ingredient addition.

Miyoko makes it clear from the onset that this book is not about instant gratification. Though plenty of recipes included can be whipped up and eaten right away, the real crème de la crème, if you will, are the aged cheeses. Fermentation and drying times vary from three days to three weeks, depending on your diligence and patience.

While waiting for my millet-based Rejuvelac (page 6) to ferment, I dove right into the simpler recipes, enticed by the promise of Rich and Creamy Alfredo Sauce (page 62.) It wasn’t so much the idea of smothering noodles in the creamy condiment that caught my attention, but the suggestion of using it to top a pizza that Miyoko mentions in the intro. Such a brilliant idea was impossible to ignore, and so I blended up that sauce in record time, slapping it on freshly risen dough, and gilded the lily with delicate squash blossoms picked earlier that day. Nice and thick, the Alfredo sat perfectly in place from baking to eating, all while remaining creamy throughout. Although mild in flavor, the subtle touch of white wine added unexpected complexity to the mix, and allowed my additional herbs and toppings to really shine.

Now with a big batch of yeasty, sour rejuvelac on hand, I steeled myself for the real heart of the matter; the aged cheeses. Making the Smoked Provolone (page 51) was an absolute must, turning out to be my favorite pick of the litter. To give you a hint of how impressed I was, my tasting notes for this amber-orange wheel lead with “shockingly delicious, a total game-changer.” Sure, it seemed promising, but how could it differ so greatly than other cheeses I had made before? Tasting is believing my friends, because nothing else comes close. Unlike so many curd copycats before, the flavor is not of vinegar, not mustard, not nooch, but simply cheese. A firm rind had formed after air-drying on the counter for four days, while the interior remained soft yet slice-able. The smoky flavor made me think more of a gouda than a provolone, but specifics aside, even my omnivorous mom agreed that it tasted like something that a cow would produce, not a cashew.

Next up was Air-Dried Emmentaler (page 32), a cheese similar to Swiss but without the tunnel-like holes. Softer than anticipated, even after aging a full three days, only the sharpest knife in my drawer would facilitate clean cuts. Vaguely gummy, the texture was not ideal, but the tangy, distinctive flavor made up for it. Funky but still delicate enough to play nicely with any sort of pairing, sweet or savory, it’s a highly versatile option.

One of the few remaining “holy grails” of vegan food has got to be convincing dairy-free Brie (page 12)… but no more. Skeptically but optimistically adding the entire cup of refined coconut oil called for, it seemed impossible that anything edible, let alone delicious, would come of this crazy experiment. Oh, how happily wrong I was. After sitting out to warm for 30 minutes before removing a wedge, the texture won’t be runny like traditional Brie, but it does become lusciously spreadable and creamy. To me, it tasted like cream cheese with some extra funk, but I’ve never actually had Brie in the first place. Again seeking confirmation from my mom, she proclaimed it “very Brie-like, aside from the texture,” emboldening me to serve it at a strictly omnivore dinner party. Almost the entire wheel went missing well before the main meal was served.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Risotto Fritters (page 76), otherwise known as arancini, due to the surprisingly loose consistency of the rice even after cooling. A messy struggle with sticky hands ensued, but all the hassle was worthwhile when my Emmentaler-stuffed appetizers came out of the oven. Opting to simplify and bypass the hot oil, these rice balls were just as tasty bake as they would have been fried. A light tomato undertone, with frequent pops of herbaceous basil throughout offsets the creamy cheese inside. Plain old marinara would have been just fine, rather than the somewhat forgettable roasted pepper sauce, since these are flavorful enough to hold their own.

Suddenly the refrigerator cheese drawer was overburdened with non-dairy delights, calling for drastic measures of reduction. Seeking out the richest, gooiest recipe to pack in as much cheese as possible, the time was finally right to try making aligot. Like mashed potatoes but with equal parts spuds and cheese, this side dish is actually stretchy when made properly. Incredibly, overwhelmingly buttery, it was delicious indulgence, but a bit much for me. After enjoying one portion of full-frontal aligot, the rest of the batch was mixed with a good dose of veggies and thinned out to make an incredible potato soup.

With recipe from Artisan Vegan Cheese in hand, vegans no longer need to offer their cheesy creations to others accompanied by a disclaimer, or a campy title like “cheez.” Leave the excuses back in the 20th century and join in on the future of cruelty-free cuisine; this is simply vegan cheese, no subtitles or purposeful misspellings, and it’s damn good.

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