BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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The Writing on the Wall

And now, for something completely different: Since I’ve been a bit short on words lately, I wanted to share a few pieces previously written for an English composition class. We were tasked with writing a number of essays, all loosely related in theme. Read on for my memoir submission if you please, or skip away for this week. Bear in mind that this was written in the summer, and turned out to be foreshadowing later events… Your regularly programed recipes and reviews shall resume shortly!

Death of a Dream

Warning signs were everywhere; loud, obnoxiously glaring, aggressively bold, and unavoidable. Yet for weeks upon months, I simply clamped my eyes shut and rammed my fingers in my ears. Operating on the theory that if I don’t acknowledge the problem, then it didn’t exist, I was able to lull myself to sleep at night in a cocoon of ignorance. If only it were so simple.

Scheduled to speak at an organic food festival in NYC on one warm weekend in July, I arrived with too few hours of meaningful rest under my belt and no plan at all. Cookies and cake were baked, and free food is never a hard sell, so I strode blindly into the spotlight, banking on having a hungry audience and not much else. Mercifully, the crowd was abundant and ravenous for information as well as desserts, which led the way to a question and answer session far better than any lecture I could have prepared. The openness and genuine compassion was palpable; things moved right along at a steady clip, without a hitch. So when one innocent, unassuming question caught me off guard, even I was stunned at my response.

“Would you ever think of opening your own bakery?” The words floated out from nowhere at all, the speaker lost in a sea of faces. Final syllables lingered like a steadily growing fog in the air as I paused for an extra beat, deliberating how best to begin. Suddenly, without warning, I had to address the elephant in the kitchen.

From a place far away, seemingly removed from my own body, I heard myself begin to speak. “In some tiny, very quiet corner of my mind, I have this idea that it would be a really fun adventure…” I rambled as I tried to sort out the situation hastily, but the tone changed, my voice began to quake and shiver. I thought of Health in a Hurry, the restaurant that I considered a second home, of Sue Cadwell, my boss, mentor, and inspiration of six years running, and the tidal wave of all the red flags hit me full-force, sweeping me away in the undertow. The truth is, I could never open my own business after witnessing the struggle first hand.

Following the mental trail of breadcrumbs, I pieced together that gruesome puzzle to assess the damages. Months had passed since my last paycheck, and still I showed up for work when called upon. I may make minimum wage, and I may not work more than a day a week during slow times, but certainly I had earned more than the $50 I netted for the previous year of service. Then, there were those slow times themselves to take into consideration: How many business models can survive based on anticipating a total of three customers a day? How do a handful of $1 cookies, made with maple syrup and organic flours pay the electric bills, let alone turn a profit? Then there was the ambiguous threat of unspecified debt that periodically floated into conversations. Whether it was hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands, only Sue knew for sure, but I didn’t get the sense that it was a minor sum, even in the most optimistic of mindsets.

Barring some incredible, unbelievable miracle, it was hard to imagine that the business could continue clinging to life, just barely scraping by, long enough to see another birthday. I saw my dreams in Sue’s dreams, my own imaginary bakery in her shop. A lovingly tended container garden decorated the scant outdoor space which blended with the parking lot beyond. Inspirational quotes adorned the bright green walls. Every inch of usable space was maximized and used to the fullest; some might call it cluttered, but to us, it was perfectly organized. The passion that went into crafting such an establishment was clear to anyone who ventured in for a meal.

Built on a foundation of organic, local produce, expenses were undeniably higher than most start-ups, and to make those wholesome meals accessible to all, it would be generous to describe the profit margins as slim. Slim to none is more like it. Hidden behind a whole building complex, without money to advertise, who was to even know our humble kitchen even existed? Perhaps the miracle here was that Health in a Hurry survived for so long in this hostile, viciously competitive marketplace.

Sue was far too optimistic to let on the true severity of the situation, but when it all became crystal clear when I caught sight of a long overdue bill. Abandoned on the prep counter and waving periodically in the gentle midday breeze, the temptation to peek was irresistible, and curiosity soon won out over any notions of privacy. I lay down my knife, stalks of celery neatly lined up and ready to be diced, and quickly darted over that mysterious paper. Numbers of unimaginable quantities, all printed in red, burned angrily before my eyes. Each one a tiny fire, together they threatened to engulf the shop in one giant blaze. As if the paper might somehow scald my open palms, I quickly set it back down where I found it, busying myself with work once again as if nothing had happened. I never mentioned the paper to Sue, and she never reported any financial problems to me.

It was immensely painful to sit idly by, watching as this place that is so close to my heart suffered. Like watching a terminally ill friend grow more sick, slowly being drained of life, it was destroying me from the inside out to see the warning signs pile up. Each one pointed to an end of the dream, to Sue’s grand mission to share her food philosophy, and possibly soon. I was deathly afraid to utter such words in front of this eagerly listening crowd, for fear of bringing that resolution even closer to a reality, but this was the harsh truth. Health in a Hurry was in grave danger. There can be great romanticism about the restaurant industry as imagined by the outsider, an idyllic vision of cooking up the dishes you dream about to regulars who love your palate and presentation. The truth is, it’s more than just a fun hobby, and it’s certainly not a game; it’s a business. When the number of dollars going in and out don’t add up, things may just get ugly, rotting from the bottom up until there’s no foundation left to build upon.

Snapping back to the question at hand and the curious faces in the crowd, I could only wonder how much of this I said aloud. The simple fact of the matter is, I was very scared. Scared to death that the only real job I had ever held may soon cease to exist, and that Sue’s dream may in fact fail, after fighting the good fight all this time. No, I could never open my own bakery, or restaurant, or any small business at all.


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Holly, Jolly, Nog-gy

Thank goodness Christmas is still ahead of us. Winding down one winter holiday so early in the season turns out to be a brilliant stroke of good luck, because now the celebrations can go on twice as long. Eggnog is hands-down my favorite flavor of the upcoming fete, despite the fact that I’ve never had a nog with egg in it. An rich and frothy beverage combining all the best sweet, savory, and salty elements that could possibly mingle in one glass, it doesn’t have to be “authentic” to be utterly delicious. As long as there’s a light splash of rum and a generous sprinkle of nutmeg, it’s all nog to me.

Converting those essential essences into a bite-sized sweet treat was a must for gift giving and snacking this year. A truffle of a different color, these would be beautiful mixed into an assortment of various spiced, mint, or dark and candies as well. In fewer words, they play well with others.

Nog Truffles

1 Cup Raw Whole Cashews, Soaked for 2 – 3 Hours and Thoroughly Drained
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup (2 Ounces) 100% Pure Cocoa Butter, Melted
1 Tablespoon Dark Rum
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Teaspoons Nutritional Yeast
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Kala Namak (Black Salt)

White Chocolate Coating:

2/3 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
1 Tablespoon 100% Pure Cocoa Butter
Ground Nutmeg, to Garnish

Place the soaked and drained cashews in your blender or food processor, along with all of the remaining ingredients that make up the centers. Blend until completely and perfectly smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the work bowl as needed to ensure that all small nut fragments are incorporated. Transfer the sweet puree to a heat-safe bowl and let rest in the freezer until firm; at least 1 hour.

Retrieve the truffle centers from the freezer and use a small cookie scoop or 2 spoons to scoop out about 1 tablespoon of the mixture at a time, rolling the chunks into smooth balls between the palms of your hands. Place the rounded centers onto a silpat or piece of parchment paper on top of a sheet pan, and repeat until the mixture is used up. Work quickly to prevent the filling from becoming too soft and unworkable. Move the whole sheet of naked truffles back into the freezer on a flat surface, and chill until solid; at least another hour.

When you’re ready to finish off the candies, combine the white chocolate chips and cocoa butter in a microwave-safe dish, and heat for 60 seconds. Stir very well until the mixture is smooth. If there are still a few stubborn chips that refuse to melt, continue heating the coating at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each, until entirely lump-free.

Dip each truffle center, one at a time, into the melted white chocolate. Use a fork to pull them out of the mixture and allow the excess coating to drip free. Move each piece back onto the silpat or piece of parchment paper, and quickly sprinkle lightly with additional ground nutmeg before the coating solidifies. Repeat with the remaining truffles. Store at room temperature in an air-tight container.

Makes 12 – 18 Truffles

Printable Recipe


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Citrus, Spice, and Everything Nice

Rather than just talk and tease about delicious homemade cookies, how about we get down to the knitty gritty, bust out the flour and sugar, and get serious about this holiday baking business?

To be frank, I hate doing what’s expected of me, so it would only follow suit that I can’t stand to give the same old Christmas cookies every year. Biscotti are classics, tried and true, so perfect for shipping thanks to their sturdy structure. Not in a million years would I whip up a batch that was merely almond, or chocolate chip, or another standard (albeit delightful!) flavor, however. This year, the dreary weather has me searching out some citrus sunshine, with an invigorating punch of spice.

Bright, bold flavors help to combat the slowly advancing grey days of winter. In a time when fewer fruits are ripe and fresh inspiration is harder to come by, a well stocked spice rack is key. Transforming the traditionally savory spices of the kitchen into something sweeter, black pepper and cayenne liven up these crisp biscotti, ideal for dunking in tea or coffee. Adding a bold hit of lemon zest to finish it off is guaranteed to wake anyone up and out of hibernation.

Lemon-Pepper Biscotti

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Zest of 2 Medium-Sized Lemons (About 3 Tablespoons)
1/2 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Pinch Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1 6-Ounce Container (3/4 Cup) Plain Soy or Coconut “Yogurt”
2 Tablespoons Smooth Almond Butter
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt just to combine. Zest the lemons directly into the dry goods and toss to distribute, along with the black pepper and cayenne. Follow that with the vegan yogurt, almond butter, and vanilla. Use a wide spatula to incorporate the wet ingredients thoroughly. The mixture will still be rather dry, but it should start to come together into a cohesive ball of dough. Drizzle in one tablespoon of non-dairy milk at a time, until the dough is no longer dry but not quite sticky.

Divide the dough in half and shape each piece on your prepared baking sheet. Form the dough into equally sized logs, 2 inches apart from each other and about an 1 1/2 wide by 8 or 9 inches long. The exact measurements aren’t critical, but make sure that the logs are rather skinny and long, and not mounded up higher than an inch or so. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until lightly golden brown and top. Remove the biscotti logs from the oven on but leave the heat on. Let the loaves cool for at least 15 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, cut the biscotti into 1/2 – 3/4 inch slices and lay them with the cut side down on a fresh piece of parchment or cleaned silpat. Return them to the oven and bake for another 10 – 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip the biscotti over the other cut side and repeat. Let cool completely before removing them from the baking sheet.

Makes 2 – 3 Dozen Biscotti

Printable Recipe


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The Mother of All Days

First, I believe there’s some unfinished business to attend to: Someone won a copy of Dreena’s latest masterpiece, Let them Eat Vegan! The random number generator has spoken…

That means that Faith gets it!

Good pick, Faith! The Quinoa Nicoise also caught my eye, so perhaps that will be the next dish on my menu, too.

Best of all, Dreena has now released the recipe for those Pan Fried Falafel that so many of you were drooling over, so you can get a good taste of what this cookbook is all about! A word of warning though: You may find it impossible to resist avoiding the book after making these delicious patties. Trust me, they taste even better than they look.

Time has gotten away from me yet again, and although I have humble plans in place to celebrate my mother on Sunday, I’m still dreaming of a full brunch menu that would spoil her rotten. She really does deserve as much, and more, for putting up with my antics. I have a feeling you might have a mother like that in your life, too. On the off-chance that you haven’t yet locked in your game plan and don’t know what to serve, here’s a suggestion of my ideal Mother’s Day brunch menu…

Bloodless Mary

Make sure these have at least a splash of good vodka when you make them. You know, for mom. Of course.

White Asparagus Gazpacho

Spring Fava Bean Salad

It’s still a bit early in the season for fresh fava beans, depending on your location, so consider subbing in green peas or shelled edamame instead.

Veggie Tofu Scramble

Four-Leaf Clover Rolls

Make these ahead of time, so you can simply pop them in the oven briefly to warm before serving.

Vanilla Bean “Honey” Ice Cream Sandwiches with Black Tea Graham Crackers

Without graham crackers, this ice cream is one of the easiest that I know, so feel free to just get to the good stuff and serve it in scoops. Just don’t forget the Pomegranate Caramel Sauce to dress things up a bit!

Happy Mother’s Day, to everyone that is a mom or has a mom!


151 Comments

Batting a Thousand

For a soft-spoken gal with a powerful fear of public speaking, one thousand posts is a stunning, if not downright shocking, milestone. Who knew I had so much to say in the first place? Strung together in bits and pieces, wedged between questionable punctuation, and tucked around photos and recipes, it’s taken an unbelievable number of words to glue this little blog together. Ironically, I’m having trouble verbalizing what all of those words mean to me, and the fact that anyone would take the time to read them all.

Can you feel the love?

That’s why, on this 1000th post, I want you to do the talking. Tell me about anything you’d like, be it about blogs in general, things you’ve enjoyed on this blog (Have you made my recipes? Tried my craft patterns? Call me a narcissist, but I love hearing about that!) or just what’s on your mind at the moment. Free choice! In exchange, I want to share with you my biggest giveaway yet…

The email marketing provider Little Green Plane has given me 6 x $25 Amazon.com vouchers to give away. For those playing along at home, that’s a total of $150 up for grabs! Though you’re free to choose anything your heart desires, I might suggest that it’s the perfect amount to snag one of my current cookbooks, or pre-order the latest to complete your collection (I can dream, right?)

To reward all you faithful regulars, this will be a speed-round contest. It will run only through the weekend, until Midnight EST on Sunday, April 22nd, with the six (!) winners announced shortly thereafter. Just make sure you enter a valid email address so that I can get in touch, and do me the favor of only entering once per person. It makes it so much easier to determine the winners via the all-knowing random number generator.


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Six Years, and Counting

Happy Birthday, BitterSweet! You are officially six years old today.

It was a mundane decision to start a blog, another tiny voice in the sea of millions, that even I had no expectations for. Initially, I didn’t tell friends or family; I didn’t have any online acquaintances; It was just a public journal, filled with craft junk and crappy snapshots.

Nearly 1,000 posts later, it’s hard to put to words the indelible impact it’s made on my life. I don’t even want to imagine what would have become of me if I hadn’t typed out that first meek post and hit “publish!”  With every new comment that comes in, I’m grateful that someone, anyone, took the time to read my lackluster early entries, and stick around for the ride. You guys gave me the courage to keep going, to keep creating, and now I’d never dream of turning back.

So this is all to say….

THANK YOU for reading, lurking, commenting, questioning, and otherwise being there, no matter what stage of the journey you joined in!

I mean it, and I truly do wish I could give out gifts to everyone, but considering shipping costs and logistics, that sort of extravaganza will have to wait until I have the same notoriety as Oprah. Considering how far this blog as come, it could just happen! For now though, I’d like to giveaway another set of my favorite crocheted pot holders to one lucky person.

I’ve made this pattern so many times now, I can almost whip through a set without looking at the color chart. Crafted in a springy combination of blue ombre and light yellow, this particular pair are a cheerful but subtly subversive addition to any kitchen. Made of cotton yarn, they’re functional, durable, and best of all, machine washable.

The winner will be chosen at random, so it doesn’t matter if you remember the awkward beginnings or just clicked over today- Everyone’s eligible! To enter, leave a comment with your name and email in the appropriate slots, and tell me about an awesome blog that’s new to you. It doesn’t have to be newly created, but something that’s recently caught your eye and you can’t get enough of. In honor of the birthday, this giveaway is open only today, so make sure you chime in before midnight, EST.

Spread the blog love; leave a comment today!

UPDATE: Ultimately, I couldn’t possibly turn anyone away, so I allowed a “grace” period of an extra day or two to enter. I owe you one, after all! And so, as chosen by everyone’s favorite random number generator, the winner is…

Commenter #44, Maureen! Congrats!

In case this wasn’t your lucky day, never fear- There will be many more giveaways, and even more pot holders to share in the years to come.


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Nog, Nog Everywhere…

…But far too much to drink! Delightful as it is to open up the fridge and see a fully stocked shelf of nothing but vegan nog, it’s simply too much for one person to polish off alone, obsessed with the seasonal beverage or not. After a couple of egg-nog-creams (Inspired by the traditional egg cream: Equal parts nog and seltzer water, plus a splash of vanilla) and then numerous ginger-nog milkshakes (Plop 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream into a blender, pour in nog to cover, add ground ginger to taste and blend. Add an extra flourish of whipped coconut creme and finely chopped crystallized ginger on top if desired), I’ve hardly begun to make a dent in that stockpile. Time to get serious and turn on the oven.

Lightly sweetened breakfast biscuits with an extra measure of holiday cheer, scones are not only an excellent way of using up some extra nog, but are also ideal for harried bakers who must soon accommodate hungry family members for Christmas breakfasts and brunches. A fine sprinkling of turbinado sugar seals the deal, providing that lightly crunchy but readily yielding crunch, adding addictive textural contrast to the whole affair. Feel free to swap out the walnuts for any other nut or even chocolate chips if that strikes your fancy, but whatever you, don’t even dream of skipping that sweet final touch.

Managing so much of this limited edition treat at once, it was inevitable that I would start serving up nog for breakfast. Happily, these scones are considerably more elegant and dignified than the alternative- A generous splash of nog over cold cereal!

Holiday Nog Scones

1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Chilled
3/4 Cup Toasted and Chopped Walnuts
2/3 Cup + 2 – 3 Tablespoons Vegan Nog
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

4 Teaspoons Turbinado Sugar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silpat.

Mix both flours, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices together in a large bowl until thoroughly blended. Cut the margarine into tablespoon-sized pieces before dropping them into the dry goods. Using a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in the margarine until you have coarse crumbs with chunks of margarine no larger than the size of a lentil. Toss in the walnuts, and pour in 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the nog along with the vanilla. Switch over to a spatula to mix the dough, drizzling in additional nog as needed if the batter is on the dry side. You should end up a slightly sticky dough but cooperative dough.

Measure out around 1/3 – 1/2 cup of batter for each scone, and use lightly moistened hands to shape them into even rounds. You should end up with 8 equal scones. Sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon of turbinado sugar.

Bake for 14 – 16 minutes, until golden brown all over. Serve warm or cool on a wire rack for later. Place in an air-tight container or wrap tightly in plastic and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Makes 8 Scones

Printable Recipe


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Start Spreading the News

Ordinarily a stellar candidate for keeping a secret, I’ve been a regular blabbermouth when it comes to my own.  After practically shouting it from the roof tops around town, spilling the details to anyone who sees me and stops to say “Hi,” it’s about time the rest of the world (or at least, the internet) knows…

I’m writing a third cookbook, about vegan ice cream! Tentatively titled “Vegan À La Mode,” you can expect plenty of wild and crazy flavors, alongside decadent classics reinvented. I’m only about 40 recipes in thus far, and there’s so much more left to churn up… You just wait, because this one is gonna be sweet!


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All-Purpose Eats

Patience is not one of my strengths, as any members of my family could attest, and this painfully slow, barely visible advancement of spring is driving me mad. Bolting up and out of bed upon spying little green buds through my bedroom window, I race downstairs to assess the weather… Only to discover yet another clammy, grey morning laying in wait. Feeling thoroughly ambushed by this disappointment, it’s difficult to know how best to displace that negative emotion. Typically taking to the kitchen and channeling frustrations and joys alike into something edible, the lack of seasonal produce has made even that a daunting task at times. So, let’s talk about season-less food, because it’s not all frozen or found in an aluminum can.

One could argue that potatoes are best harvested in the cooler months, but unlike so much other produce, these tubers keep so well and for so long, that they’ve effectively lost their seasonality through modernization. Unless you’re growing your own spuds (and more power to you, in that case) anyone and everyone should have easy access to dozens of varieties, all year round. Having them at the average cook’s disposal for 365 days of the year has led them to morph and mutate into dishes appropriate for any occasion, hot and cold, rich and light- You name it, there’s a potato for that.

And so I land at the recipe, with what some might find a boring, nothing-special baked potato. However, I have yet to meet a single soul who could claim to dislike such a dish, so that sounds pretty darned special to me. The real take-away from this piece though are the tofu croutons. If nothing else, ‘taters or not, you’ve got to give those crispy, savory, and somewhat salty little toppers a go. Plus, if you happen to be lucky enough to enjoy a more cooperative spring, you could just as well pile them on top of fresh, seasonal salads. As for me… I’ll just keep enjoying those potatoes a bit longer.

Loaded Baked Potatoes with Tofu Croutons

Crispy Tofu Croutons:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 14-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Tofu, Drained and Pressed for 30 Minutes

Baked Potatoes:

4 Medium Baking Potatoes, Such as Russet

1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 – 3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Soy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Sweet Paprika
2 Scallions or a Handful of Fresh Chives, Thinly Sliced
1 Cup Roughly Chopped Steamed Broccoli
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Roasted Peppers
Vegan Cheddar “Cheese” (Optional)
Avocado, Diced (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a resealable plastic container, combine the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, and pepper, and stir well.

Cut your tofu into very small cubes, about 1 cm each, keeping them as uniform as possible to ensure even baking. Place them in the container with the marinade, seal the container, and shake gently to coat the cubes in the mixture. Let rest until the oven comes up to temperature.

Transfer the tofu cubes and excess marinade to your prepared baking sheet, and spread them out into one even layer. Bake for 60 – 75 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes or so, until evenly browned.

Meanwhile, prepare your potatoes by washing them and cutting a slit into the top of each, to vent the steam. Place them in the oven alongside your tofu, and check for doneness at about 60 minutes. The skins will be slightly crispy, and they should be fork tender on the inside.

Let the potatoes cool for at least 10 minutes, and then scoop out the insides, leaving a thin layer of potato around the skins so they don’t collapse. Place them in a medium bowl, along with the olive oil, 1 tablespoon of soy milk, the salt, and paprika. Use a potato masher or fork to break up the potato and incorporate the other ingredient. Don’t overdo it, a little bit of chunkiness is perfect! If necessary, add more soymilk until it reaches your desired texture, and then add in the scallions, broccoli, and roasted peppers. Mix well to combine. Spoon the mashed potatoes back into the skins, and top with the tofu croutons. Finish off with a sprinkle of vegan “cheese” and/or diced avocado, if desired.

Serves 4

Printable Recipe

Recipe originally written for Nasoya tofu

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