BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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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Mad Props

Prop shopping can often be the most fun, or the most frustrating, part of food styling. Endless accessories to match any style are out there, waiting to be discovered; the thrill of the hunt can turn any outing into an impromptu prop acquisition mission. Though the food will always be the star of the show, it still needs strong supporting actors to complete the production, so it pays to have a sharp eye for design and for deals. Expenses are what prevent these searches from being carefree, as any blogger knows well. While those hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind serving pieces are obvious budget busters, it’s surprising to see how badly plain linens can eat through any allotted funds. Yes, I’m talking about fabric napkins, props that rarely get the attention they deserve. Adding pops of color while softening the scene, giving it motion with an effortless drape or order with a tight fold, napkins often pull the whole image together. Problem is, most napkins come in sets, because what normal person wants just one or two of a hundred little scraps of fabric? Rarely will more than two even fit on my set, not to mention the inflated price tag that comes with those matching bundles.

Thank goodness for online shopping. Current blog sponsor Dot and Army provides the perfect solution, packaging fun, whimsical fabric napkins in every color and design you can dream up, instantly giving you dozens of different ways to dress up your food photography. Don’t see a ready-made set that strikes your fancy? Custom packages are also possible. It’s like having your very own personal prop shopper who has impeccable taste!

Just imagine this image without either napkin in place. While they may be overlooked as a stylistic element by the average viewer, they add tons of color to this otherwise plain white background, while reinforcing the concept of a dainty tea party. All I had to do was explain my needs, and these two examples were part of the bundle I got from Jennifer, the talent behind this treasure trove.

This one is even less prominent, but take a gander at the vintage checkerboard napkin way in back. When I asked Jennifer to simply surprise me, this was one of the patterns she picked out, and it has already become an important part of numerous photos. Even if they aren’t the main focus of a shot, or even in focus, it’s those subtle touches that turn a fine photo into a memorable one.

Now, do I have a treat in store for all you budding and established food stylists… Jennifer has very generously offered to give away some of her fabric finds to one lucky reader! The winner can pick any 2 sets of 12 napkins, or choose a customized set to match their kitchen. Enter by commenting about your current favorite prop shop, be it local or online. For two extra entries, like Dot and Army’s facebook page and/or pin your favorite item from the shop on a Pinterest board. Be sure to come back and leave separate comments for each action you take if you want to make them count! You have until Wednesday, October 10th at midnight EST to get your entries in, so make haste and start commenting!

If you simply can’t wait to dive into all the goodies on display (and I sure don’t blame you) go ahead and add those treasures to your cart. When you checkout, enter the code “bittersweet” for a 20% discount on any orders (excluding custom orders.)

UPDATE: The random number generator has spoken, and the winner is…

Lucky commenter #52, Amy! Check your email for info about collecting your winnings, Amy, and enjoy your stylish new fabric napkins!


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Unsung Heros (and Hoagies, Tortas, Wraps, et al.)

Do I really need recipes for putting stuff between bread? What could be more simple, more intuitive than building a sandwich? At least that’s what I thought, ever skeptical, until that fateful day when Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes‘s latest collaboration, Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day, was crammed into my undersized mailbox. It’s okay to admit if you too underestimated the power of a properly constructed sandwich, as long as you proceed with an open mind. Besides, there’s so much more to it than just grilled “cheese” and veggie burgers- Wraps, rolls, open-faced sandwiches, hot and cold options, and even desserts are included. True, a few liberties may have been taken with the sandwich concept, but I’m ruling this one a fair play because it’s all worth exploring.

Starting at the beginning meant flipping to the final chapter first, where all the breads, “meats,” and other interchangeable additions are filed away. Seeking a loaf that could set my sandwich journey off on the right foot, “The Building Blocks” of chapter 8 is precisely the spot I landed before exploring any other tempting pages. Bread is arguably the most important part of a sandwich, creating is a solid foundation to build upon, imparting complimentary flavors, and still allowing the filling to take center stage when its solo must be sung. Knowing Celine’s talent for taming the wild yeast, I would expect no less than homemade options more exciting than your standard white bread, and she did not disappoint.

After purchasing an overwhelming volume of leafy greens yet again, the Green Monster Bread (page 178) was a god-send for dispatching a good portion of my arugula. In fact, I went ahead and doubled the amount called for, with excellent results. Living up to its name, the loaf rose to incredible heights in the oven, and each slice yielded a cheerful light green, fluffy crumb. A subtle hint of garlic is what really sets it apart- Though you may not be able to pick out exactly what that faint flavor is, it’s easy to taste that there’s something extra going on in there beyond the standard flour and water, making for a very tasty mystery.

Clamoring to utilize my lovely green loaf right away, I landed on the super simple Deviled (Not) Egg Salad Sandwiches (page 57) largely out of laziness. Already stocked with the necessary ingredients, it was only a matter of mixing and mashing before I had my first fully loaded lunchtime tower. Unlike any other faux-egg recipe I’ve ever known, liquid smoke adds an additional savory element. While highly enjoyable, this made me think more of a smoked fish salad, or an entirely new culinary creation. Happily, it doesn’t matter what you call it, as it should be a hit with any crowd. Smartly smashing the chickpeas means that they retain a nice bite, but won’t roll out like a handful of marbles between bread. Even outside of its sandwich assembly, it was a very enjoyable, eggless option.

Caesar salad has long been a rare “treat” for me, consisting of crunchy croutons, rich, creamy dressing, and some token lettuce just to fill the bowl. Well, the Tempeh and Arugula Caesar Wrap (page 68) has taken that filler salad and turned it into a well-balanced and highly satisfying portable meal. Rather than greasy croutons, toasted sunflower seeds provide the crunch in this combination, with simple marinated tempeh strips adding in a much needed punch of protein. Remarkably bold, tangy dressing ties the whole tortilla-encased filling together. This recipe will undoubtedly work its way into many future meals.

Ending with something sweet was in order, and the promise of Mango Butter and Ginger Whoopie Pies (page 167) proved irresistible. Despite concentrating the mango puree into a smooth, sweet paste, ginger completely out-shined any fruity flavors. Fail to mention the mango component, and even eaters with fine-tuned palates would never guess. Sparkling brightly with gingery spice, that didn’t stop me from savoring those fluffy, cakey cookies one bit. Melt-in-your-mouth tender once fully stacked, the creme was aggressively sweet by itself, but sufficiently tempered by the cookies’ bite. Something tells me that this recipe will be worthy of a second visit, perhaps in cupcake format instead.

I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on all that Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day has to offer, but I’d like you to have the opportunity to taste test as well. Are you up to the challenge? Let me know about your current favorite sandwich in the comment section, and one randomly chosen winner will walk away with a shiny new copy of this cookbook to enjoy. You may even find a new combination that steals your sandwich-loving heart! Be sure to include your name and a valid email address in the appropriate boxes before Saturday, September 29th, at Midnight EST. This post will be updated with the winner shortly thereafter.

UPDATE: As chosen by everyone’s favorite random number generator, the winner is…

The owner of comment #39! That means the book goes to… Richa! Congrats, and check your email for further details!


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Take Me to Tofu Town

Dawdling along the main thoroughfare at the bottom end of the speed limit, our final destination still managed to elude us. Surely the GPS hadn’t been mistaken, but even after two slow drive-by searches of the suggested location, not a hint was found to indicate that we had arrived. Sequestered within a completely unmarked building about the size of a modest New York apartment, the average onlooker would never realize that they were staring right at the source of the best tofu in the tri-state area. One could easily walk right past it for years without a second thought, and yet on closer investigation, the tell-tall aroma of cooked beans can be detected wafting through the air, and hints of laborious activity glimpsed through the small windows. This is the factory for Bridge Tofu in Middletown, Connecticut- Not exactly a tourist destination for those who are in the know.

Arriving completely unannounced after a few inquisitive phone calls fell on deaf answering machines, it was clearly no place for curious bystanders, and yet I was immediately, graciously welcomed through the plastic flaps covering the doorway. A tour would have been superfluous, as all stages of production could easily be viewed standing right there in the entry.

Tons upon literal tons of soybeans piled into multiple barrels, hinting at the impossible volume of bean curd being produced in this tiny space. Committed to organics, their dedication to sourcing out the highest quality ingredients is one that comes through in the flavor.

An immense, metal-clad machine spit out silky white soy milk across the way, spewing out gallons by the minute. Every single drop is needed, condensed down further once coagulation is set into motion. Large rectangles press the curds into the largest slabs of tofu you’ve ever seen, to be cut into size once firm, but still creamy on the inside. It’s this incredible texture that truly sets Bridge apart from other tofu options on the market. Few would recommend eating plain, uncooked curd, but this is one that is genuinely delicious on a hot summer’s day with just a splash of soy sauce and handful of sliced scallions on top. It only comes in one level of firmness, but it’s a one size fits all style of tofu, seamlessly fitting into nearly any recipe out there.

Freshly severed small rectangles float through a final water bath before reaching packaging, a mere four or five meters away from where they were born. Each label is applied by hand, each bag sealed individually. It’s a painstaking process that is astounding to watch, knowing the reach of this one tiny producer. Available in Whole Foods Markets and independent health food stores for miles around, I could have never guessed that all of it came from such a humble beginning. First introduced to me through working at Health in a Hurry, it’s the only tofu we ever use, and it’s easy to taste why.

There’s a whole lot of passion going into those unassuming beige bricks. It’s not listed on the label, but easily detected in each bite.

Lest you think Bridge is a one-trick tofu factory, incredibly, they also produce the best seitan I’ve had the pleasure of cooking. If ever seitan shows up in my recipes, you can rest assured that Bridge is the brand going into the mix. Also churning out amazake and a tuna-like tofu salad, their home base may not be impressive, but what they manage to create within its confines sure is.

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