BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Slow and Steady Wins the Meal

When Beverly Lynn Bennett let it slip well over a year ago that she had a slow cooker cookbook in the works, it may or may not have had a strong influence on my biggest birthday request. Timing also played a significant role in the decision, as I scrambled to find something, anything, to populate my sparse wishlist, but it was also too enticing a concept to resist. A gadget that independently bubbled away on the counter and produced hot, comforting dishes without any further human intervention? Moreover, a kitchen gadget that I didn’t yet have? Preposterous. With a bit of help from generous parents, that gift pushed me firmly into the world of slow cooking at last.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Slow Cooking may not look like much on the shelf, but it contains a wealth of knowledge that only an expert could bring to the home kitchen. A decorated chef and author, Beverly has been in the game for decades, boasting one of the earliest vegan recipe websites to my knowledge, providing a sturdy crutch to countless new, practiced, and simply curious cruelty-free cooks. Having had the pleasure of sampling many of her creations through past photography assignments, I had a feeling that her take on the mysterious slow cooker would be worth waiting for, and I was not wrong.

Cautiously dipping my toes in the water first, I went with one of the most common uses for the contraption first: Stew. What could be better than just tossing a whole mess of ingredients into the spacious pot, setting a timer, and going about your day? Anything that does more work for me is welcome in my kitchen, so I eagerly piled in the vegetables and proteins for the Basque Potato Soup (page 88). When dinner time rolled around a few hours later, the rich, tomato-scented air was driving me mad with hunger. Packed with hearty chunks of potato and seitan chorizo, the intense flavor flew in the face of its humble, oil-free beginnings. An underlying smoky, roasted, and gently piquant flavor lurked throughout, giving the whole stew incredible depth. Though the heat grows with each successive bite, it never reaches nuclear levels, staying quite manageable no matter your spice tolerance. For such a basic soup, this one really hits all the high notes.

With one staple passing the slow cooker test with flying colors, it was time to move on into more adventurous fare. Beverly fills the pages of her book with plenty of tried-and-true preparations, ranging from chili to hot fudge sauce, but where this book really shines is in the more inventive uses for the contraption in question. Take, for example, quiche. Yes, a whole quiche cooked right in the slow cooker! Crustless Vegetable-Tofu Quiche (page 44) had my name written all over it: Mushrooms, zucchini, red onion, and of course tofu, all wrapped up in a savory brunch-worthy package. After painstakingly waiting for the quiche to cool before slicing, the texture was positively luxurious. Like a silky custard throughout, it was as creamy as a cohesive tofu dish can be. Unfortunately, the taste didn’t quite measure up to that strong start. Best described by my mom as a “mild vegetal flavor,” it was unfortunately rather bland, with a faint salty bitterness at the back of the palate. Bumping up the seasonings or swapping them out for a new set entirely would easily elevate this dish into a clear winner.

Finally, I went for a real grand finale, and pulled out one dish that had everyone exclaiming, “You made that in a slow cooker?!” Yes indeed, that Sweet Potato Streusel Coffeecake (page 250) pictured above never saw the heat of an oven, spending a solid three hours getting acquainted with my slow cooker instead. At first, it seemed like an inevitable failure. Though the recipe fails to say when the margarine should be added, I slipped it in while mashing the potatoes, still warm and readily drinking in the added fat. It was only after “baking” that I became concerned though, testing for doneness at least a dozen times over. Still, the center toed the line between a super-moist sad streak and dough wad of moist raw flour. Luckily, after serving it to a crowd, the overwhelming consensus was that rather than being a disappointment, this was in fact an asset. Perfect for anyone who loves cookie dough or slightly under-baked banana bread, it was simply a cake with a dense crumb, no disclaimers needed. A hearty wheat flavor gives this treat a more wholesome impression, but make no mistake, it’s still plenty sweet enough to pass for dessert. This is one idea that clearly needs further exploration, because guests couldn’t stop raving about that crazy concept.

Whether you’ve never touched a slow cooker before or are a seasoned pro, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Slow Cooking is sure to give you something new, and definitely delicious, to stew over.


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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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