BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Wild About Greens

Mothers who once championed the old dictum of “eat your veggies” now have a new refrain to the familiar song: “Eat your greens.” Having risen from the periphery of American grocery stores, once literally lining the deli cases as nothing more than colorful, long-lasting garnishes, kale has paved the way right back into the kitchen for all manner of leafy edibles. Finally, after decades of neglect, those oft-forgotten flowerless bouquets are finally welcome house guests, and there’s more than just romaine and spinach going into summer salad bowls. Still, the trend is only in its infancy, and after so many voluminous raw hodgepodges of discordant ingredients, what can really be done with these overgrown lawn clippings? And moreover, how can we prevent them from tasting as such?

Riding the crest of this wave is Nava Atlas, who brings us Wild About Greens exactly in our hour of need. Introducing a whole palate of varied greens to even the most inexperienced of cooks with a gentle, warm, and inviting tone, Nava will take your hand and guide you from the grocery store to the dinner table, and all spaces in between. Doling out equal parts reassurance and enlightening information, this book is definitely geared towards the greenest of beginners, but provides inspiring flavors to get anyone out of a produce rut. Such a depth and breath of different edible plants are covered, there’s likely to be something new for anyone to try. You may claim to be a kale expert, but how often do you cook with beet greens? What about watercress? Have you ever tried mizuna in your green smoothie?

In a comfortingly familiar cloak of tomatoes and herbs, the Italian Vegetable Ragout with Chard (page 126) would make an excellent introduction for those less enthusiastic about incorporating more greenery into their diets. Adding in the optional chickpeas turns this hearty side into a perfectly satisfying one-pot meal. Enlivened with a pinch of red pepper, the interplay between tomatoes that are both roasted and sweetly sundried is so flawlessly balanced, it’s hard to believe the whole dish came together in mere minutes.

Curry, another common, endlessly accommodating staple in my diet, gets new life with the simple addition of pungent mustard greens and tender spinach. Coconut Cauliflower Curry with Mustard Greens and Spinach (page 186) blends mild spices and coconut milk to create a rich, golden elixir of a stew. Safely falling into a child-friendly heat level, it’s an excellent meal to make for a family, and ramp up the hotter spices on individual servings, to taste. Mustard greens are a newer ingredient to me, and while I would rather eat grass clippings than a couple of its raw leaves, this creamy yet still light sauce can excuse a whole host of flavor flaws- Proof positive that it only takes the right cooking method to make even the most maligned greens easy to swallow.

The salad section is of course abundant with suggestions, and now that the heat of summer has come to stay for the season, those are very enticing pages to explore. Breaking out of my own personal food taboos, I fearlessly took Nava’s lead and combined fruits with savory vegetables (gasp!) and ate watercress raw for the first time, emboldened by the Sumptuous Spring Greens Salad (page 156). It seems silly to rave about a salad, but this one deserves all the praise. Much more thoughtful than just odds and ends tossed together, the combination of sweet yet tart green apples softens the bitter bite of radicchio and peppery flair from the radishes. Creamy avocado brings texture contrast to the party, a welcome reprieve from the crisp and crunch all around. It’s a kick-starter that makes one wonder, “why didn’t I try this before?” Simple even for a side, yes, but every bit as noteworthy as an elaborate main.

Thrilled to have any excuse to pull out my oft forgotten juicer, the section on beverages provides the confidence I frequently lack when it comes to combining greens with sweeter fruits. The Spinach and Lettuce Refresher (page 206) is, as promised, very refreshing indeed! An excellent beginner’s green juice, it’s mild, not at all bitter, and lightly sweet thanks to the addition of apples; no need to add the optional agave at all. Slightly tangy thanks to lemon juice, this beverage may just become the new lemonade around here.

The beauty of the recipes showcased in Wild About Greens is that they’re built to take on whatever you throw at them. Want to swap collards for kale? Go for it! Nava provides plenty of substitution advice, but the versatility of each preparation goes beyond that. It would take a concerted effort to ruin any of these recipes; go ahead and change the veggies, add beans, take away herbs, do your worst! Wild About Greens succeeds in removing the fear of failure from cooking with new ingredients, and can plant the seed for entirely new recipe ideas. It truly has never been easier to eat green.

It would be a downright shame not to spread these delicious ideas further afield, so I’m thrilled that the publisher has so kindly offered to share an additional copy for one lucky reader to win! If you’re looking to get more greens into your diet, tell me about your current favorite leafy ingredient, and how you like to prepare it. Links and recipes are encouraged but not necessary! The basic requirements, as per usual, are names and valid email addresses in the appropriate boxes. Please, only one comment per person, and be sure to speak up before Midnight EST on June 27th. I’ll contact the winner shortly thereafter, so keep an eye to your inbox.

UPDATE: The winner, chosen by the fair and just random number generator is…

The lucky commenter behind entry #7, 3littlebrds! Get ready to load up on the leafy greens, because you’re gonna want to put them to use right away!


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POP into Summer!

Instant frozen treats, ready mere minutes after the first craving hits. Sounds like science fiction, but if a “better tomorrow” starts with dessert, then we are well on our way. Standard ice creams and popsicles take hours at minimum, simply freezing to a solid enough consistency to eat, but the Zoku Quick Pop Maker has taken all the waiting out of the process. Using an insulated mold, all warmth is wicked away from liquids poured inside, be it an ice cream base, melted sorbet, or merely juice, turning into an icy treat on a stick right before your eyes.

In the name of “research” for my ice cream book, I found it entirely necessary to test out this crazy contraption, requesting a review model early on. This was, of course, over a year ago now. After snapping that initial photo of the device, admiring the appealing rounded edges and pop-art designs on each plastic stick, and carefully stowing it in the freezer… It remained there, untouched, month after month. Despite the fact that freezer space was at a premium, that thing did not budge from the top shelf, on the offhand chance that I would have time to play with pops. While the assessment may be a bit belated, I can tell you this much: It will be getting a whole lot of use from here on in.

Initially spurred into action by a job for Allergic Living Magazine that called for striped fruit-and-creme pops, dreamed up by my good friend Alisa, this was the perfect kick in the butt to get this thing out of the freezer at last. The unique freezing system allows the pop maker complete creative freedom, freezing stripes of any size or shape, should you tilt the housing in the middle of the process. A three-layer affair was a snap, straight-forward enough that even the least ambitious dessert dabblers would be able to manage such an effect with ease.

Another fun feature is the ability to stick fruits and other “mix-ins” directly to the walls of the machine, so that they’re perfectly visible once the pops are removed. In fact, they now make tiny cookie cutters that allow you to create faces on your pops, really giving them some personality. Going a more simple route, I merely used sliced strawberries to feature in my Strawberry Cereal Milk Pops. Easily veganizing Christina Tosi’s legendary recipe with almond milk, all I had to do was pour in the cornflake-infused milk after adhering the berries, and just like that, a delightfully frosty breakfast-turned-dessert was born.

The real beauty of this toy is how it can cater to every whim and craving. On impulse, it seemed fun to whip up a frozen chia fresca one hot afternoon, and so without delay, that’s just what I did. Though the seeds still floated to the top, it made for a fantastically refreshing solution to a sweltering summer day. Experimenting like this is effortless and painless, so even the flops won’t set you back. Just thaw and wash out the mold, thoroughly dry, refreeze for a day, and you’ll be ready to go all over again.

I still haven’t even scratched the surface in trying out all that this baby is capable of. With the help of a handy siphon, pops with different flavored cores are a breeze as well. A classic but homemade creamsicle or strawberry shortcake could be mere minutes away! In case you ever find yourself at a loss for ideas, the mad geniuses at Zoku have you covered there, too. In addition to their blog filled with recipes, they’ve even created a whole pop cookbook to keep you inspired. Easy and inviting enough for kids of all ages to enjoy, I can’t think of a single person I wouldn’t recommend this fun gadget to. Even couples and singles have options now, with double and single pop capacity molds, in case a freezer full of tempting treats is not an ideal situation. Personally, my only complain would be the opposite: I could never make enough pops to keep the freezer stocked for very long!


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MOO Who?

As an ardent and rather stubborn DIY-er, it can be difficult to hand over the reins of a project to someone else. That’s why I was reluctant to accept an offer from MOO.com to lend a hand with printing. Why did I buy that bulky, large format professional photo printer anyway, and didn’t they only produce business cards? Au contraire, although best known for their brilliantly colored, multi-photo business cards, it turns out they also produce equally stunning stickers of all shapes and sizes, not to mention the greeting cards, too. The endless possibilities presented by a pack of completely customizable stickers was the spark that started my creative fire.

With Vegan a la Mode due literally any day now, I began to think towards future book signings, and how I wished I could have a greater reach in my two-state “tour.” Book plates could solve all of that! A simple sticker that could be mailed in a standard envelope, no muss, no fuss, for those abroad who might want a signature. Rather than slap together something reasonably decent, this was a job for MOO, plus the adorable illustrations of the ultra-talented Michelle Cavigliano.

Have happy ice cream scoops ever looked better on sticky paper? I think not. The color quality and sharpness is impeccable; What came in the mail less than a week after placing my order was a flawless replica of my original submission. (There’s just a bit of glare in the photo, not a printing issue at the bottom of the sticker.) Certainly better than I could have done alone, and about 100 times easier.

In celebration of my third cookbook‘s imminent release, I want to start by giving away 5 of these adorable book plate stickers, signed, to anyone who pre-ordered or won’t be able to see me in person- Or just loves the design (I don’t blame you; Michelle totally exceeded my expectations on the cute factor.) In addition, MOO.com was so generous as to offer both a pack of 50 Business Cards AND 50 Retangular Labels to 3 more lucky readers! That’s 8 chances to win right there. All you have to do is leave me a comment and specify if you want to be in the running for both a book plate and the printing prize packs from MOO, or just one. If you want your own MOO.com business cards and stickers, tell me about what you would have printed on them. Make sure you fill out a valid email address in the appropriate box, and please, only one comment per person.. This contest will be open to entries until June 5th at midnight EST.

UPDATE: The random number generator has spoken, and the winners of the MOO.com prize packs are…

Amanda and Jessica K!

And the lucky five getting signed book plates are…

Jill, Kelly C, Sarah, veganamericanprincess, and Aya!

Congrats everyone! Keep an eye on your email, and expect a message about your winnings from either me or MOO shortly.


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Let Them Eat Vegan!

A title like that truly needs no further introduction, but I still can’t resist gilding the lily a bit. To anyone in the market for a well-rounded cookbook with delicious ideas from breakfast through dessert, all developed with an eye towards wholesome ingredients, there isn’t a title I can recommend more highly than Dreena Burton‘s latest masterpiece, Let Them Eat Vegan! I won’t hesitate to admit that my advice on the matter is entirely biased, though; It was my incredible fortune to supply the photographs found inside, tasting my way through the whole experience. A dream job if I ever did land one, these dishes came together with ease, and were so naturally enticing that they practically styled themselves.

Pan-Fried Falafel Patties (page 145), Smoky Spiced Tahini Sauce (page 54), and Quinoa Taboulleh with Olives (page 40) all go together to create one transportive middle eastern feast. Preparing three recipes for one photo can be a daunting task, but not so for this trio; each component was a snap to whip up, and keeps beautifully if made in advance, too. I do love all things falafel, and these bad boys have the edge on the competition, because they’re cooked in only a dab of oil, rather than the traditional vat for deep-frying. The texture and taste don’t suffer one bit from this adaptation- If anything, it allows those complex spices to shine through even brighter.

Even something as unassuming as a tempeh sandwich- or “Tempeh Tickle“- (page 122) with Spinach-Herb Pistachio Pesto (page 154) is a meal to remember. Satisfyingly hearty without being overtly “meaty,” it’s something both crunchy-granola vegans and staunch carnivores could enjoy in peace.

Rarely do brownies sweep me off my feet any more, as reliably rich and chocolaty as they are, but Dreena’s are something else entirely. Layered with a decadent, lightly tangy blanket of “cream cheese” and topped with whole chocolate chunks, each bite is a delicious study in complimentary textures. An additional pinch of salt crowning the whole tray is truly better than the icing on the cake. Even if you’re as jaded on these classic bar cookies as I am, give this recipe a shot. In Ms. Burton’s talented hands, brownies are still every bit as revolutionary as when they were first “accidentally” invented in the early 1900′s.

Creamed Cheese Brownies with Salted Dark Chocolate Topping

From the book Let Them Eat Vegan! by Dreena Burton. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012. http://www.dacapopresscookbooks.com Photo by Hannah Kaminsky.

Wheat-Free, Soy-Free

“No faux cream cheese to be found in these deep, rich, fudgy brownies. Cashews stand in for a cream cheese–like layer, which takes these brownies to, ‘OMG these are freaking good!’ ’Nuff said—go make them.”

Creamed Cheese Layer:
1 cup soaked cashews
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp vanilla non-dairy yogurt (if using coconut yogurt instead of soy, add another 1 tsp lemon juice)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp (rounded) sea salt

Brownie Layer:
1 cup + 2 tbsp sifted (or light) spelt flour
¾ cup unrefined sugar
½ tsp sea salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp arrowroot powder
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup + 1 tbsp plain or vanilla non-dairy milk
3½ tbsp neutral-flavored oil

Topping:
1/3 – ½ cup chocolate chunks (use a good quality dark chocolate bar, and break/cut into small chunks)
Few pinches coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.

Prepare cream cheese layer: Puree all those ingredients with an immersion or high-speed blender until very, very smooth (a mini food processor can also be used, but it usually doesn’t produce as smooth a texture as does an immersion blender). Process for several minutes, if necessary, until very smoothed out.

Prepare the brownie layer: In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt, and sift in the cocoa and baking powder.

In a small bowl, first combine the arrowroot with the maple syrup, stirring until smooth, then add the vanilla, milk, and oil. Add the wet mixture to the dry. Stir until evenly mixed and thick. Transfer about two-thirds of the mixture to the prepared pan. Use a square of parchment to help the press mixture into the pan evenly and spread it out. Spread the cream cheese layer over the top. Then, as best as you can, spread the remaining brownie batter over the cheese layer. You can take pieces and lightly spread first with your fingers and place in patches over the cream cheese layer—and it doesn’t have to fully cover; there can be spaces—most will fill in and come together while baking.

Add the topping: Place the chocolate chunks on top, and then sprinkle with the salt. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan, running a spatula around the outer edge to loosen. (The brownies will appear not fully cooked, but do not cook longer—I repeat, do not cook longer! Instead, let cool and they will become fudgy!) Once cooled, score the brownies with a sharp knife to ease cutting the chocolate before it completely hardens. Then refrigerate brownies to cool more, cut into squares and dig in! Makes 16-20 brownies.

If This Apron Could Talk: Trust the baking process! The amount of batter used for the base—and then topping— looks like it cannot possibly fill out to form a beautiful brownie. Lucky for us, the oven creates some magic in about half an hour!

Printable Recipe


Now that’s just barely even the tip of the iceberg. It would be a shame to keep such a gem to myself, so I’m thrilled to offer one lucky reader a copy of Let Them Eat Vegan!, as generously furnished by Da Capo Lifelong Books. For your chance to snag a copy, you know the drill; Leave a comment with a name and functioning email address in the appropriate boxes, and tell me about your favorite Dreena Burton recipe, from any of her equally fabulous books or website. If you haven’t yet tried any (What are you waiting for?!) talk to me instead about what you want to make first from Let Them Eat Vegan! The winner will be chosen at random May 9th at midnight EST, and announced shortly thereafter within this same post. Check back to find out who will end up 200 recipes richer!

PS, you may not want to wait for the contest to run its course, because Dreena has a special promotion going on now, including autographed bookplates and plenty of delicious extras along with your shiny new cookbook. If you end up winning a second book here, it also makes an excellent gift for anyone who likes food, so check it out!


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Out Of This World Vegan Feasts

“You always hurt the one you love,” or so goes the pervasive pop music refrain, but truer words were never spoken- Especially when it comes to cookbooks. Tidal waves of new books continue to sweep in across the foundation of vegan cooking, which is great for exposure and variety, but not always such a positive thing for quality, or true staying power. When a new cookbook finally comes along that gets me genuinely excited, I cling to it, for fear of it being washed away with the rest of the overflowing texts. Perhaps its a subconscious means of saving the best for last, but it’s those books that I want most to dive into that get neglected the most. Wanting to do them “proper justice” means cooking from them with abandon, picking out just the right recipes, and analyzing them to the fullest, but that eventually becomes an impossibly complex task. Thus, World Vegan Feast by Bryanna Clark Grogan has been sitting on my overburdened bookshelves since at least November, bookmarks sticking out of almost every crevasse, but completely unexplored. Rather than striving for the “perfect,” complete, full-on feasting review, let’s just go with a little taster.

Immediately appealing for its sheer diversity in flavors and techniques, cultures collide in this all-inclusive compendium of veganized world cuisine. Best of all, no stone is left unturned, and homemade solutions to faux meats, seasoning mixtures, dairy-free cheeses, and any other staple you can dream of are provided as well. Bryanna has gone out of her way to educate the cook, not just provide a few isolated recipes, so they might learn to create their own dishes through her examples. Menus are even suggested for all sorts of engagements, both big and small, to please any guest. It’s not all good news though; recipes don’t get their own individual pages, so it can often feel like one big run-on sentence as ingredient list and preparations collide. Pictures are provided in a central insert, but aren’t exactly plentiful. Luckily, a quick check of Bryanna’s blog can oven be enlightening since many of the images (and even full recipes) are shared there.

Dipping in a toe to test the waters, the Potato and Mushroom Miso Soup (page 74) sounded like a quick, easy, and comforting dish to kick start the cookbook test drive. Easily slapped together at the last minute, surprisingly complex flavors came from such a deceptively simple soup. Deeply satisfying due to the triple whammy umami punch of mushrooms, miso, and kombu, sliced potatoes give this starter much more staying power than the typical wan broth. Not too salty, packed full of goodies surrounded by just the right amount of broth, it’s Bryanna’s finesse here that makes this combination extraordinary.

Another one to file under the “quick, easy, delicious” category are the Shwarma Wraps (page 60). Stuffed with highly spiced and toothsome seitan, it’s clear that the “meat” is absolutely the star of this show. Incredibly flavorful but only mildly hot, the combination of Middle Eastern spices is spot-on. Delightfully tangy, it’s powerfully acidic but not too sharp thanks to a quick trip through the oven. Though I served my “yogurt” on the side as a dip to prevent my lavash from becoming too soggy, it’s absolutely imperative to include, as it tames the burn of pickled peppers strewn amongst the milder fresh veggies. Once the seitan is prepared, you could throw this little number together in minutes and have a lunch to go or quick-fix dinner just like that.

Tempting readers with two separate dessert sections, clearly, there was no way I could end this review without a little sweet investigation. Although the Lemon-Strawberry Tiramisu (page 203) is related to a traditional coffee-flavored tiramisu only in basic construction, that doesn’t matter one bit considering the bright, fresh flavor it provides. Opting to make a half batch in individual servings, it was the perfect treat for an impromptu picnic- Even if that excursion only took me as far as the backyard. These creamy layered verrines were delightful, brightly spiked with citrus and lightened with fresh, ripe strawberries. Sliced almonds tucked between layers and sprinkled over the top are a nice additional touch, adding a bit of crunch to contrast the smooth creme filling. The Sponge Cake (page 177), though a bit player here, tasted remarkably like a dense, chewier version of angel food cake. Fluffy but still quite sturdy enough to withstand a soak in lemon syrup, this unassuming component clearly has great potential for other applications as well. All told, it’s the kind of dessert that no one with a sweet tooth could refuse.

That’s barely even scratching the surface on all the recipes I have bookmarked in World Vegan Feast. Think fish-free “salmon” loaves, vegan souffle omelets, and walnut-based Georgian-style matzo ball soup, just to name a few on my list. There’s a great big world out there to explore, and as demonstrated by this inviting cookbook, the kitchen is the best place to start.


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When You Feel Like a Nut

One sip of almond milk, so many years ago, was all it took to convert me to a believer; I haven’t looked back to soy ever since. Smoother, creamier, and without the distinctive bean-y undertones soy is apt to impart, the choice for both baking and drinking was clear. The biggest downside to the switch was in nutrition; quite simply, no nut can compete with legumes on the protein front. Finally, the gap is beginning to close, thanks to another brilliant innovation by So Delicious. Almond Plus almond milk has the best of both worlds, and doesn’t taste like a compromise in the least bit.

Perfectly smooth, this silky elixir has a velvety thickness that goes down easily, whether it’s topping cold cereal or drank straight from the carton. Either the Original or Vanilla flavors are irresistible as stand-alone drinks, and I’m not often inclined to down a plain glass of “milk.” Unsweetened blends seamlessly into savory dishes, and has become a fast favorite for creamy sauces, such as the classic alfredo. Perfectly suited for baking and dessert making as well, it’s quickly become my go-to “milk” for making ice cream. Luckily, for those lacking the patience or equipment, So Delicious has you covered with a brand new line of almond milk ice creams all their own.

Diving first into the basics, the Chocolate and Vanilla make a dazzling first impression. Unlike their other recent creation, coconut milk ice cream, the base is a silent player here, allowing the star ingredients to shine in their respective pints. Soft and easy to scoop straight from the freezer, the chocolate does err a bit more on the sweet side, but I can see it having huge appeal with children especially. Impressively complex in flavor, it’s much more than mere cocoa; such richness belies a truly modest nutrition panel. Vanilla actually tastes like vanilla, and not just an anonymous “plain” option. In fact, it tastes more like homemade ice cream than anything I’ve tried out of a commercially packed cardboard pint, which is about the highest compliment I can bestow.

Even with such high expectations, it only gets better from there.  Cherry Amaretto is not one I would pick up on my own accord, but one taste forced me to change my tune, because I would definitely buy it from here on out. Cherry-flavored desserts often rub me the wrong way, with artificial flavors carrying most of the weight in  a truly unnatural, over-concentrated sort of way. Such a sin is not one committed here, as the chunks of real cherry are impossible to miss. A light cherry essence is found throughout, accented by the barest hint of amaretto flavor, which rounds out the dessert nicely.  Those big chunks of sweet cherries and delightfully chewy, rather than icy, like so many poorly planned fruit additions. A sophisticated yet still playful combination, it’s clearly designed for a more mature audience, by would undoubtedly be enjoyed by the younger set as well.

Butter Pecan stole my heart with just its name. More than merely butter-y, it’s in fact butterscotch-y, with deep caramel notes mingling seamlessly with the floral vanilla flavor. Tons of sizable pecan pieces add a satisfying crunch, and assert themselves properly to justify the name. A subtle hit of salt serves to intensify this complex ice cream, accentuating all of its best features. For the next Thanksgiving dinner, I’m highly tempted to simply pack this ice cream into a flaky crust and call it pecan pie!

Picking a favorite flavor out of this incredible selection is almost as difficult as picking a favorite child, but I can’t deny that the Mocha Almond Fudge would undoubtedly rank very high on my list. More than mere coffee and cocoa, there’s a whole lot going on in each spoonful. A gooey fudge ripple marbles throughout the pint, adding a blast of chocolate decadence every now and then, like built-in hot fudge sauce. Huge, plentiful chunks of fresh and lightly roasted almonds keep things exciting, although the smooth coffee backdrop would hardly be dull all by itself. I have a feeling that even coffee-haters may love this ice cream- It’s just that good.

Many other of So Delicious’ classic ice cream flavors will also be available in almond milk format, and let’s not forget about the novelty treats, too. Naturally, I wolfed down the whole box of Mocha Almond Fudge Bars in record time, but the Vanilla Bars were not long for this world, either. Something about that crisp, fast-melting chocolate coating makes this already killer ice cream even more irresistible. Biting into that frozen cloak of cocoa, it yields with a satisfying snap, revealing the contrasting creaminess within. It’s the kind of addictive treat I can’t keep on hand regularly if I hope to maintain a diet that includes edibles other than ice cream.

Though I was terribly spoiled by a sneak-peek shipment of these items, most should already be available in specialty markets such as Whole Foods across the US by now. When I’m ready to give the ice cream maker a much deserved break, I know just where to turn for delicious frozen desserts. To share the almond love a bit, So Delicious provided 2 freebie coupons for any of their products, so that means that two lucky readers will get to pick out something sweet, on the house! Just leave a comment that includes a valid email address, and tell me what your favorite flavor of ice cream is. The giveaway will close to new entries on Friday (the 13th!) at midnight, EST. Check back in this space to see the winners.

UPDATE: As chosen by the random number generator, the winners are…

#17, Roopa!

and

#31, Allie!

Congrats, and to everyone else, don’t go far- I’ve got another giveaway coming up very soon…


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Caught Sticky-Handed

Sticky Fingers Bakery has long been a sweet sensation within the vegan community, serving up pastries and other delights in the Washington, DC area since 2002, accumulating numerous awards over the years. Most remarkable of all was when chef and owner Doron Petersan broke into the mainstream, not only showing up on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, but stealing the whole show; Her vegan cupcakes won by a landslide against the butter- and egg-based competition. Now, while the bakery that has always been held in high esteem, it’s become a runaway hit sensation, and everyone wants a piece of the pie (or, cake, as it may be.) Luckily, Doron has recently released the secrets to her baking success in a cookbook chronicling the bakery’s most popular recipes, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets.

Upon receiving my copy, I wasted no time and flipped straight to the famed Cowvin Cookies (page 110) I had already heard so much about. Deceptively simple oatmeal cookies, every time I heard these gems mentioned it was breathlessly, typically accompanied by the words “incredible,” or “addictive,” so I couldn’t resist the temptation. However, it was clear that something was amiss when the instructions led me to form the cookies into individual rounds, rather than bars, as they’re found in the bakery. Pleasantly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, they made for fine oatmeal cookies… But didn’t quite live up to the hype. Particularly sweet when paired with the frosting-like filling, an additional hit of salt may have helped balance the whole assembly, and brought out a bit more flavor. I can’t say I would make them again as written.

Undeterred, I charged straight ahead to a breakfast treat in the form of Orange Cranberry Scones (page 175). Fashioned into a heart shape for Valentine’s Day, they held their shape admirably throughout their time in the oven. Utilizing the creaming method to bring ingredients together, rather than cutting in to make flaky layers, the resulting scones are more like cookies in texture. No matter, as they’re still plenty tender and bursting with bright citrus flavor. Accented by tart pops of dried cranberries, this sweet and tangy combo is an invigorating start to the day. Sweetened with restraint, the optional sugar topping really pulls the whole pastry together, and should not be skipped.

Suddenly finding myself with quickly perishing blueberries on hand, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets rescued the day (and the fruits) with classic Blueberry Muffins (page 155.) A sturdy but soft crumb gives way to polka dots of blueberries, lightly sprinkled with a crunchy oat topping. A perfectly respectable muffin, it certainly fit the bill, but may have been more successful with a double dose of berries, at least.

The real crowning jewels to this particular tome are, unsurprisingly, the cupcakes. Now I’m kicking myself for not starting there in the first place. Sure, vegan cupcakes are a dime a dozen these days, but how many times do you come across a George Caramelin Cupcake (page 90)? One of their winning offerings on cupcake wars, a rich chocolate cinnamon cake carried the weight of vanilla bean bourbon frosting, bourbon caramel sauce, and candied pecans with grace. Rising to impressive, perfect domes, the cakes themselves would have been perfectly tasty unadorned, but how could you say no to the suggestion of bourbon caramel? Boozy in a good way, the sauce came together easily and thickened beautifully after cooling, becoming the ideal consistency for delicate drizzling. The whole is so much greater than the parts, as incredible as they may sound alone, and I found myself compelled to “taste test” these beauties repeatedly before I felt satisfied with my assessment. Yes, all in the name of the cookbook review; I really took a hit for you guys on this one. It’s a tough job, but someone had to do it.

Rest assured, this book would be worth purchasing just for the cupcake section. Be prepared to use your kitchen scale though, because while there are mercifully weight and volume measurements included when possible, the difficulties of scaling down bakery-sized quantities leaves the standard American baker with a few fiddly measurements to contend with. Ultimately Sticky Fingers’ Sweets is a well thought-out compilation and homage to the DC bakery that started it all, and while all the recipes aren’t runaway hits, the ones that truly are make trying everything else worthwhile.


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Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut…

…And it may have something to do with the fact that it’s National Peanut Month! It’s true, March has been designated as the official time to celebrate the humble peanut, in all of its goober glory. Rather than just enjoying the standard peanut butter sandwich, or baking up some ordinary peanut butter cookies, I craved a different sort of peanut sensation. It was a stroke of luck that Betty Lou’s presented the opportunity to test drive their latest creation, Powdered Peanut Butter.

Yes, dry peanut butter that rehydrates with a drop or two of water! Sweetened with coconut sugar and significantly lower in fat than the ordinary nut butter, it’s even a healthier option than many spreads currently on the market. A strong peanut aroma wafted from the jar as soon as the lid came off, and all signs pointed in a good direction, right through the initial reconstitution. Mixing easily and smoothly back to a spreadable consistency, I was genuinely impressed how it instantly became thick and sticky, just as I would hope for with any peanut butter. Admittedly, the flavor is different than I’m accustomed to, but every brand has their own unique flavor profile; this choice is no different. Nice and salty while not being too sweet, it strikes a fine balance between the two, accompanied of course by the roasted, nutty notes of peanuts at all times. Perhaps slightly less satisfying due to the lack of fat, it’s still plenty rich, and perfect for those seeking a lighter peanut fix.

Rather than just slather it on toast and call it a day, what really got me excited were the new possibilities such a unique ingredient could unlock. Immediately my mind wandered to my famed macarons, found in Vegan Desserts. Replacing the almond meal with peanut butter powder should be a snap, right? Paired with a creamy chocolate ganache, I was already daydreaming about the end results before the oven had fully preheated.

Unfortunately, this wild experiment wasn’t exactly a success, as is evident by the abundance of cracks and lack of feet. Perhaps too finely ground for this delicate cookie, it simply took on more moisture than almond meal, and didn’t produce the desired results. It was a good idea, but not recommended. Save your precious peanut powder for something easier and more rewarding, like a walk on the savory side with crispy tofu.

Seasoning the peanut butter powder lightly and dusting the tofu triangles to coat each piece, the results were spectacular. Not only did the quick dredge create some of the crispiest bean curd I’ve ever crunched on, but the added flavor put it light years ahead of the standard plain starch or flour approach. Served on a bed of sauteed kale and caramelized onions, it was the kind of quick, comforting meal that will no doubt see many repeat performances. Best of all, nothing goes to waste- The peanut butter powder leftover from dredging the tofu is effortlessly rehydrated into a creamy peanut sauce. Drizzled on top or used as a dip on the side, this nutty dish is a delight even to those not wild about tofu.

Crispy Peanut Tofu

1 Pound Extra-Firm Tofu
1/2 Cup Powdered Peanut Butter
2 Teaspoons Powdered Garlic
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

Canola or Vegetable Oil, to Fry

1 Thinly Sliced Scallion, for Garnish (Optional)

Drain and press tofu for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the peanut powdered and seasonings. Once the tofu is ready, cut it into triangles, rectangles, or cubes, and toss them in the peanut powder. Make sure that all sides are fully coated.

Place a large skillet with high sides over medium heat, and add in about 1/4 – 1/2 inch layer of oil. When the oil is hot, carefully place a few pieces of the tofu in the skillet at a time, being sure not to crowd the pan. Fry for 3 – 4 minutes on each side, until deep brown and perfectly crispy. Remove and drain the tofu over a over-turned wire rack resting on top of a paper towel, and repeat with the remaining pieces.

Create a fantastic, instant sauce to go with your tofu by adding water to the remaining peanut powder mixture, one tablespoon at a time. Drizzle over the tofu, and top with scallions if desired.

Serves 2 – 4

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Leftovers

The dust is finally beginning to settle after the final grueling round of edits for Vegan a la Mode, and I can breathe more easily once again. It may actually be done. Such a crazy thought, to consider that my third cookbook is on it’s way, possibly being printed as we speak. It sure didn’t happen overnight though; like most of my grand concepts, this one has been churning for a couple years now, before I even knew I wanted to do a book devoted solely to frozen treats. The gentle hum of the ice cream maker was my siren song, and I couldn’t stop dreaming up creamy concoctions even if I tried. It was a natural segue to turn those recipes into a book, where they could all live happily together. But like any process that drags on through months and months, evolving with the changing seasons and weathering different patterns of inspiration, there had to be some difficult cuts to make at the end of the line. As per usual, I had too many ideas, too many words, and not nearly enough pages to stretch my writerly legs.

Perfectly tasty ice creams had to be set aside to make the book work as a whole, and this Maple Nut Royale was one of them. Sandwiched between a maple-pecan number and a handful of other peanut-based confections, it simply made sense to pare back. It took the news with grace, but I could tell it was quite disappointed it wouldn’t see the pages of a published book after all. Leftover but still perfectly good, this creamy, nutty ice cream seemed like the perfect little teaser to share here instead. One of the earlier recipes I churned up, circa 2009, the photo may not be my best work, but I like to think that the deliciousness still shows all the same.

Maple-Nut Royale Ice Cream

3/4 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
2/3 Cup Maple Syrup
2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk*
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Toasted Pecans

*Almond milk is recommended to further the nutty theme, but any sort of non-dairy beverage, other than rice milk, will do.

Combine all of the ingredients, except for the pecans, in a medium saucepan until smooth. You can bring things together more easily in a blender, but it should smooth out with a sturdy whisk and just a bit of elbow grease, too. Set the saucepan over medium heat on the stove, and continue to whisk gently, scraping the bottom and sides as you go, to prevent the mixture from sticking and burning.

Cook until the liquid comes to a boil and has thickened significantly; bubbles should break slowly but regularly on the surface. Turn off the heat, and let cool to room temperature before chilling thoroughly in the fridge. Allow at least 2 – 3 hours for the mixture to come down to a cooler temperature.

Once chilled, churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In the final 5 minutes of churning, add in the chopped pecans, and allow the moving paddle to incorporate them into the soft ice cream. Transfer to an air-tight container, and stash in the freezer for at least 3 hours to further harden before scooping and serving.

Makes About 1 Quart

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Proof of the Pudding

A sweet and simple snack, pudding instantly brings me back to my childhood with just one creamy spoonful. Though many different sorts of dishes can be called a pudding, including baked, savory ones, the pudding that first springs to my mind is the type cooked over the stove top, thickened with cornstarch, and enhanced with a touch of sugar. It’s also a treat that doesn’t appear often in my kitchen, for one reason or another. Perhaps it’s because the nostalgia remains in eating the pudding that magically would appear in the refrigerator, perfectly chilled and ready to savor. The idea of relentlessly whisking over a hot stove simply doesn’t share the same sort of happy memories.

Happily, WayFare Foods can allow all of us to remain kids at heart, no matter how far into adulthood we may have regrettably fallen, and still leave the work of pudding-making to the grown ups. Their new line of vegan puddings are remarkable for both what they’re made of, and what they’re not. Soy-free and gluten-free, they’re primarily composed of an innovative blend of millet, lima beans, rice, and oats. Better yet, you’d never guess your sweet pudding was ever made of such healthy ingredients! Not a hint of bean-like or cereal flavor gives away the secret, and I would feel perfectly confident offering these snacks to omnivores and picky children alike.

Offered in Vanilla, Chocolate, and Butterscotch flavors, each option was very straight-forward and uncomplicated in flavor, just like pudding aught to be. With a smooth, slightly sticky consistency, they were just rich enough to be satisfying, but still light on the palate. Well balanced between careful additions of sugar and salt, you could hardly go wrong with any of those flavors. Whereas the vanilla and chocolate are relatively mellow and easy to eat, be aware that the butterscotch is surprisingly strong in comparison, which may come as a positive or a negative aspect, depending on your preference.

The only real complaint I can come up with for these snack packs is that there’s no pudding skin for the old-fashioned pudding lover like myself. I suppose there are still some things that modern ready-made puddings can never replace.

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