BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Healthy Decadence

There’s a real art in finding the delicate balance between want and need, sweet and savory, austere and indulgent. All too often battling cravings that fall on the more hedonistic side of the scale, reaching some semblance of middle ground is especially important for this constant snacker. Grazing through my day with the greatest of ease, finding that ideal combination that will satisfy both my sweet tooth and my hunger is always the goal, but rarely the result of endless pantry raids throughout the day.

Inspired by yet another excellent new protein powder kindly provided as a sample by Ka’Chava, rather than just drink my superfoods straight, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get in the kitchen and play around. Energy bars were a natural first though, but too obvious, too easy to get excited about. Healthy, protein-packed fudge, though? Now that’s a wholesome treat one could lust after.

Rich, but not overwhelmingly so, crunchy cacao nibs punctuate the soft texture, much like chocolate chips strewn through unbaked cookie dough. A thin sheet of dark, slightly bitter chocolate caps off each small square with just the right extra dose of decadence, although it’s strictly optional if you’re more of a protein purist. Eaten straight out of the fridge, there are few tastier yet still healthy tidbits out there that can power me through a long day.

Protein Fudge

1 Cup Raw Cashews, Soaked for 4 – 6 Hours
1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
1/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
1 Packet (58.5g) Ka’Chava Chocolate Protein Powder
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs

To Finish:

3 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon Coconut Oil, Melted

Thoroughly drain your cashews before tossing them into your blender. A high-speed blender is recommended for this recipe to ensure the smoothest texture possible, but as long as you’re patient with a lower-powered model and let it process for a bit longer, the recipe shouldn’t suffer. Add in the melted coconut oil, coconut sugar, protein powder, vanilla, and salt, and start the machine on the lowest setting to begin breaking down the cashews. Slowly increase the speed until you reach the highest setting, using the plunger to keep the contents of the blender all moving towards the blade, or pausing to scrape down the sides of the container, as needed. It may take some time for everything to combine smoothly, without any residual cashew pieces or graininess to be found.

Meanwhile, line an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan with foil, lightly grease, and set aside.

Once your fudge mixture is thoroughly blended, stir in the cacao nibs by hand to evenly distribute them throughout. Transfer everything to your prepared pan and use a wide spatula to smooth out the top. Place the pan on a flat surface in your freezer to begin solidifying.

To finish off your fudge, place the finely chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe dish and heat for 60 seconds. Stir thoroughly until all of the chocolate is melted and no pieces remain. If necessary, continue microwaving at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well after each one, until perfectly smooth. Retrieve the fudge from the freezer, pour the melted chocolate all over the top, and spread it out evenly so that it covers the entire pan. Return the pan of fudge to the freezer and let rest, undisturbed, for at least 3 hours.

Using the foil as a sling, pull the fudge out of the loaf pan and slice into small squares with a very sharp knife. To make cleaner cuts through the chocolate topping, first run the knife under very hot water and dry thoroughly before making your first incision.

Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes 16 – 20 Small Squares

Printable Recipe


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Wish I Was There

Whipping bitterly cold gusts of air against my exposed skin, the wind howled mercilessly, landing a barrage of freezing punches from all directions. Inescapable, unrelenting, this assault makes each step outside feel like a mile away. Winter in New England can be a challenge to cope with on the best of days, and through the eyes of a SAD-sufferer, no day is a good day. Days blur, sloppily, slowly, into one ugly mess of endless slush, ice, and darkness.

Lighting the way through these murky moments is the promise of imminent escape. Having the foresight to book a ticket back to Hawaii while airfare was still reasonable was the smartest impulse buy (not to mention the most expensive) I made all year. Memories of warmth, sun, and genuine happiness fuel a stubborn persistence to keep hanging on just a little while longer. White-knuckling it through the stress of final exams and bleakness of winter’s descent, the day of departure simply can’t come soon enough.

In the meantime, the tastes of Hawaii provide some small comfort, a tiny tropical oasis in the midst of less favorable conditions. Turning back to those incredible macadamia nuts that I had been saving for a rainy day, stashed way back in the depths of the freezer for safe keeping, savory inspiration pulled me away from my standard palate of sweet ingredients.

Seeking something light and bright to contrast with all of the other, heavier comfort foods keeping me afloat, quinoa proved an ideal canvas to paint the colors of Honolulu upon. That concept turned out quite literally, as dried hibiscus blossoms (the official state flower) and red beet juice stained the white grains a dainty shade of dusty rose. Buttery macadamias and a generous splash of coconut milk lend richness to the otherwise lean pilaf, balancing the opposing desires for clean flavors and soothing touches of decadence. Flavored simply with a backdrop of garlic and scallions, the floral infusion is what sets the dish apart. Each bite brings back visions of brilliant blooms, stretching upwards to kiss the cloudless blue sky.

Although it won’t stop me from counting the days until my Hawaiian adventures begin anew, a heaping helping of warm quinoa does help time pass at least a little bit more easily- And certainly much more deliciously.

Mahalo Macadamia Quinoa Pilaf

2 1/3 Cups Water
6 Dried Whole Hibiscus Blossoms, or 6 Bags Hibiscus Tea
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cups) Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/4 Cup Red Beet Juice or Puree (Optional, for Color)
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Raw Quinoa
1 Cup Macadamia Nuts, Coarsely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
1 Large Sweet Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Large Scallion, Thinly Sliced

Place the water and hibiscus blossoms or tea bags in a large saucepan over medium heat, and bring the water to a boil. Cover, remove the pot from the stove, and allow the tea to steep for about 30 minutes.

Squeeze out and discard the spent blossoms or tea bags. Return the pot to the stove and introduce the coconut milk, beet juice or puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring the liquids to a full boil before adding in the quinoa. Cover and turn down the heat to low, keeping the contents of the pot at a gentle simmer. Cook for 16 – 20 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Turn off the heat but keep covered for 10 minutes to steam and finish cooking.

Meanwhile, toss the macadamia nuts into a dry skillet over medium heat, and stir constantly until they’re lightly toasted and smelling irresistibly nutty. Quickly transfer to the pot of quinoa to prevent them from burning and lightly wipe out the skillet.

Melt the oil to the skillet before adding in the onion and garlic. Saute, stirring periodically, until golden brown all over. Transfer to the pot of quinoa, along with the pepper and scallion. Mix thoroughly to combine and distribute the nuts and onions evenly throughout the quinoa. Stir in additional salt to taste, if desired.

Serve immediately while still warm, or chill for at least four hours for a refreshing cold salad.

Makes 6 – 8 Side Dish Servings

Printable Recipe


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Wild Winter Wonderland

Change up the usual festive flavors and think blue this holiday season! Before you hit palate fatigue from pumpkin pie-spiced everything, reach to the freezer for inspiration and invite Wild Blueberries back to the party. Even as the days go by and winter tightens its grip, frozen Wild Blueberries are still not only available but convenient, since they’ll stay icily preserved until inspiration strikes, and of course, just as sweet and delicious as ever. I’m not alone in my Wild Blueberry holiday plans, as two other very talented bloggers have joined me in developing some festive, true blue treats to celebrate the season.

Together, with the help of Wild Blueberries, we banded together to create a delicious free e-book with seven irresistible recipes, both sweet and savory, to help inspire some new holiday traditions.

My contributions start with a sweet and simple drink. It may not look like much more than a standard mug of hot chocolate, but beneath that steamy surface hides a rich, blue secret. Wild Blueberries and chai tea spice things up together, contributing both a warming and fresh, fruity flavor unlike any other cocoa combination I’ve ever tried. Wild Blueberry Chai-Spiced Hot Chocolate is a snap to whip up after a rough day out in the freezing cold, and is sure to take the chill off instantly.

Heading over to the savory side of the street, a quick Wild Blueberry jam infused with fresh sage is sure to surprise and delight. Perfect to smear on crackers and enjoy unadorned, or pack into pretty glass jars to give away as gifts, this is an intense, flavorful spread that masterfully balances sweet, savory, sour, salty, and herbal tastes in every bite. Of course, you can also dress it up for your next big shindig by creating Wild Blueberry Crostini.

Lightly toasted slices of baguette are topped with creamy pistachio ricotta, serving as the perfect foil to the flavorful jam. Finish the whole thing off with a sprinkle of crunchy whole pistachios, and guests may not be able to save room for dinner itself.

Stock up on a bag or two of frozen Wild Blueberries and go check out the whole free e-book for these recipes and more. I don’t know about you, but now I’m dreaming of a blue Christmas…

This post was written for and is sponsored by Wild Blueberries, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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Monstrous Munchies

Halloween is right around the corner, but if you haven’t yet figured out your snacking strategy for when the moon rises and the creatures of the night emerge, don’t panic! Rather than reaching for a protective head of garlic, I say go for the sweets and invite those monsters right on in. They’ll feel perfectly at home when you present them with a heaping bowlful of gloriously green Matcha Monster Munch.

Candied green tea popcorn, tossed with crunchy pepitas and drenched in a generous drizzle of dark chocolate is a treat to tempt even the most distasteful beasts. Perfect for a party or just a quiet night of answering the doorbell for trick-or-treaters, it’s a snack that’s as irresistible as it is vibrant.

Quick, jump on your broomstick and fly over to the recipe on Go Dairy Free, before the witching hour is over!


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Beyond Meat; Beyond Expectations

Decades of stigma and misunderstanding are finally giving way to a more tolerant, open-minded approach to the murky waters of “fake meat.” Even NPR has taken note that more omnivores are willingly eschewing meat in favor of vegan alternatives these days. Though I’d like to believe that this shift can be attributed to a better understanding of factory farms and generally being able to access greater compassion to our feathered, furry, and scaled friends, I know that it all boils down to one thing at the end of the day: Taste. Innovations in the field have brought forth tastier creations than ever before, and suddenly, meat alternatives have become a painless way to eat healthier, without sacrificing flavor. Whatever the reason, convincing those outside of the vegan and vegetarian community to eat more cruelty-free foods can only be a good thing for everyone involved. Since my own approach to cooking puts flavor first, I’ve benefited greatly from the latest and greatest plant-based proteins, too.

A real game-changer in the industry is Beyond Meat, a company that’s made headlines numerous times for winning over Bittman, garnering support from Twitter’s Biz Stone, and unnerving longtime vegetarians for their similarity to actual poultry products. Serving up only chicken-style alternatives, this stuff is the real deal, at least as far as “fake” meat goes.

Right from my first encounter, it was abundantly clear that Beyond Meat was in a category all its own, creating an entirely different protein experience than one would find in traditional meatless mains, such as tofu, tempeh, or seitan. For one, it smells crazily, disturbingly, genuinely like cooked chicken. Even though I haven’t eaten meat in years now, I’m still exposed to those preparing and consuming it, and that previously inimitable scent really threw me through a loop. Firm but easily yielding to the tooth, the texture is where it really shines. Far from the rubbery, chewy, or latex-y consistency of previous faux meat options, the strips shred in a very authentic way, mimicking the grain of cooked chicken. Though this may put off staunch vegans who don’t miss the experience of eating meat one bit, it’s a big selling point for everyone else.

Lightly Seasoned is like a blank canvas; borderline bland, like plain roasted or broiled chicken breast. Ideal for soaking up any sauce or marinade, there are no competing or off flavors that would giveaway the soy base. Lean, non-fatty (“skinless”), the pieces are reminiscent of a light, white meat sort of taste. This was perfect for fulfilling my longtime craving for a bowlful of soothing chicken soup with rice. Tenderizing in the hot broth and soaking in the deeply savory bouillon, it was so unbelievably meaty, I wouldn’t have trusted its vegan label if I hadn’t prepared it myself.

Grilled is very similar to the prior option, now sporting attractive black grill marks that only a practiced hand would be able to achieve at home. Subtly smoky, woodsy, and bearing a charred essence on a lightly peppered backdrop, the hassle of pulling out your own grill is taken out of the picture. Sturdy enough to stay firmly in place on skewers, I was delighted to turn my seared strips into yakitori, a savory delight that hasn’t passed my lips in nearly a decade now. Too simple to consider as a true recipe, all you need is a batch of sauce to dip the “chicken” into, which goes something like this:

1/4 Cup Mirin
1/4 Cup Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Grated Fresh Ginger
3 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Arrowroot

Vigorously whisk all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, breaking up any clumps of starch should they form. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes up to a full boil. Remove from the heat and enjoy immediately.

Finally, Southwestern spices up Beyond Meat’s offerings with a chipotle and lime-spiked base. Defined by a gentle but discernible kick, the subtle burn grows with each successive bite. By the end of the meal, you may very well find your lips tingling, and not in an unpleasant way. Unfortunately, this heat doesn’t add much in the way of nuanced flavor, and overpowers the inherently chicken-like flavor that one might be craving from such a product. Though perfectly tasty, it strikes me as a waste to cover up the masterfully crafted taste of this unique protein base. I probably wouldn’t buy it again, simply because a sough a purer “chicken” experience, but it was undeniably delicious in a layered chicken taco salad. Composed of pico de gallo, shredded romaine, sliced olives, tortilla strips, and of course, Southwestern chicken-free strips chopped into cubes all packed into glass jars, this meal became an ideal impromptu picnic.

A radical departure from the crunchy-granola “hippy” foods of only a decade or two ago, Beyond Meat is making meatless living more possible for those who may not have even considered the option before. Anyone even moderately curious about trying another protein alternative would be doing themselves a disservice not to check these chicken-less strips out- I have yet to hear any negative feedback, from professional food reviewers and my own omnivorous dinner mates alike.


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Sweet Relief

National Ice Cream Day, decreed to fall on the third Sunday of July, couldn’t have come at a better time. Still grappling with a week-long heat wave that stubbornly refuses to break or bend, keeping cool is the top priority for anyone living on the east coast. Though always a favorite treat no matter the weather, my appetite for ice cream really kicks into high gear during the dog days of summer, and this year’s sweltering forecast has prompted the same hunger to return with a vengeance.

Well over a year has passed since Vegan a la Mode was published, and yet I can’t stop churning up new flavors. Case in point, the Peach Pie Ice Cream pictured above was inspired by the abundance of explosively ripe stone fruits sitting on the kitchen counter, combined with my new focus on pies. Tender fragments of buttery pie crust are tossed in cinnamon and sugar before being baked to an even golden-brown. Nestled in between lashings of gooey peach jam, each scoopful of peach ice cream tastes like a creamier, cooler version of its namesake. Don’t wait until the next heat wave to add this refreshing yet decadent dessert to you to-do list: Grab the recipe on GoDairyFree.org and start churning as soon as your peaches are ripe!


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Viva Vida Vegan!


Photo by Liz Crowe

Talk about a whirlwind trip. With so much good food, inspiring information, and of course, lovely people, all crammed into the space of a long weekend, it was stimulation overload for an introvert like myself. It may take me twice as long to fully recover, easing back into the normal routine, but that disruption was more than worth making time for, to say the least.

Until I can gather my thoughts on Portland at large and the amazing eateries I managed to visit, I wanted to share some details from my workshop on food styling. Thank you so much to everyone who made it into the room! I’m sad to have suggested a cap on attendance, having heard so many people were turned away, but that’s one mistake I won’t make again. In case you missed out or managed to sneak in but couldn’t get a handout, here’s the list of the tools that go into my kit. Print at will and use it well!

It was a bit crazed, compressing so much information into just 45 minutes, although I did go over a bit (Sorry, Isa!) which is why I’m very grateful that Liz managed to get a nice shot of my fully styled Pad Thai. To recap, a few of the tips that went into converting that mountain of noodles from sad leftovers into the above blog-worthy plate are as follows…

  • Put dots of sauce on the plate (or pour a bit into a small, separate dipping bowl for a less fancy presentation) if you’d like it to really stand out from the dish. Apply this with an eyedropper for better control.
  • Deconstruct your dish and pick out the key elements. I really homed in on the baked tofu cubes here, since that seemed like the most interesting ingredient in the mixture. As you build the plate, strategically weave them back in so that they’re front and center, without looking as if you specifically placed them there.
  • Dab soy sauce onto foods with a paintbrush (never used on paint) for a darker golden-brown hue.
  • Toss noodles with oil so that they glisten and pick up eye-catching highlights.
  • Add color- Reach for bold, contrasting colors to brighten up a drab dish. Fresh herbs and vegetables are always a good route to go down. (I used scallions, purple cabbage, and microgreens in this case.) Make sure it makes sense, too! Don’t just add ingredients for the sake of design, if they have discordant flavors with your dish.
  • To make a citrus zest spiral, pare away a long, thin strip of zest from any citrus and trim the sides so that they’re even. Wrap the strip around a plastic straw in a spiral, securing the top and bottom each with a straight pin. Let it sit in the freezer for at least 15 minutes and then use it quickly! It will uncoil as it thaws. Since I didn’t have a freezer handy here, I simply went with a little lime twist on the side. For that, cut a thin round out of the widest part of the lime (or any citrus) and then cut a slit at the bottom, between two segments, stopping at the center. Twist the cut edges in opposite directions and set it on the plate.
  • Remember, food styling is about controlled chaos. When adding cashew halves on top, I let them fall where they may to keep it looking realistic. Make a plate look too perfect and it won’t have the same appetite appeal.
  • Add the most perishable ingredients last. That meant the microgreens here, which I did add one by one for equal distribution.
  • On that note, be patient! Build each plate carefully and deliberately.

Thank you to everyone who saw it happen in person! I couldn’t have hoped for a more gracious, engaged audience. It was your feedback that has encouraged me to seek out future demo opportunities in the future, so you certainly haven’t seen the last of me yet.

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