BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Take Your Best Shot

On the cusp of another new year, it’s hard to imagine where the last 365 days could have possibly gone, no matter how thoroughly they were lived. Reflecting back on 2013, the temptation to sum up all of the most brilliant aspects into one neat little package is high, and yet the results always feel inauthentic at best. Who can really quantify the “best” of anything when there are so many muddled moments inextricably mixed in? What was your favorite recipe? Your most rewarding project? Your greatest victory? Even as I reflect back, pouring over the contents of my hard drive and all the fine details lost to a poor memory, I struggle to find answers.

Lest this sound too morose, fear not! It was a banner year for me, an excellent and joyous year overall, filled with greater successes and stronger friendships than I could have ever hoped for when the clock struck midnight 52 weeks ago. I just know that I could never do all of those things justice though a top-ten list or whirlwind round up, forced out at the last minute.

Instead, I find myself drawn back of course to a more recent event, still fresh in mind, that points to new possibilities in the future. Car photography is not a niche I ever considered, not once, and would have never even attempted without the prompts of a homework assignment. Despite all my misgivings, the results remain one of my top photos- A shock, considering that for once, there’s absolutely no food involved!

With that, I look to the future, planning to explore this new world of possibilities further, along with all the other tasty ventures that have serve my camera (and stomach) so well thus far. Let’s not wrap everything up and tuck it away on a high shelf, starting again with a clean slate. Take all those experiences and move forward with them, stronger, wiser, better prepared for 2014. May it be the best year yet, only to be topped by its successor.


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The “F” Word

Just when you thought it was safe to open up your home to visitors once again, now that the tinsel dust and artificial pine scent has settled, I’ve come to ruin your day. More of a curse than a gift, it’s a dubious “treat” that has gained (and quite frankly earned) little respect over centuries of unsavory history. Not to be rude or anything, but it’s time that I dropped the F-bomb.

Fruitcake. Pardon my language.

Yes, I know, head for the hills and don’t accept packages from strangers; I’m offering you a genuine fruitcake, of all things! Trust me, I’ve been a very vocal naysayer of this brick-like food substance, never having seen the benefit to preserving mysteriously colored fruits in a metric ton of sugar before binding them all up into an impenetrable, flavorless batter. Better employed as entertaining projectiles than food stuffs, I would gladly get out there on the field with all the other unlucky fruitcake recipients as well. But, not with this new spin on the concept.

Rummaging through a pantry overstuffed with odd ingredients, I discovered an abundance of so-called “superfoods” that had no clear destination, and little use outside of random nibbles. Instead of simply frittering them away through impulse snacking, such special ingredients deserved a greater end. Baked up into a lighter cake than the traditional take, the crumb stays impossibly moist and does indeed only get better with age. Enhanced with the complex, caramel nuances of coconut sugar, volumes of flavor can shine through without the sticky veil of syrupy sweetness. Kombucha, with its very faintly alcoholic buzz, takes the place of harder liquor or rum here, so even teetotalers can indulge with abandon.

Of course, consider the exact superfruits and nuts listed here merely suggestions. As long as you throw in 1 1/2 – 2 cups of dried mix-ins in addition to the pomegranate arils, your cake will be golden… Literally, once baked.

Super-Fruitcake

1/2 Cup Fresh Pomegranate Arils
1/2 Cup Goji Berries
1/2 Cup Dried Mulberries
1/4 Cup Dried Goldenberries
1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs
1 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Zest
1/2 Cup Kombucha, Divided
1/3 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
2/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
2 Tablespoons Molasses
1 (3.5-Ounce) Packet Frozen Acai Puree, Thawed (or Applesauce, in a Pinch)

Confectioner’s Sugar, To Serve (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 6-inch round, 3-inch high cake pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the pomegranate arils, all of the dried superfruits, walnuts and cacao nibs. Add in the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cardamom, and zest, tossing to coat all of the goodies.

Remove 2 tablespoons of the kombucha and set aside for later. Separately, whisk together the remaining kombucha, coconut oil, coconut sugar, molasses, and acai puree until fairly smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together. A few lumps are fine, especially since it’s a fairly coarse mixture to begin with.

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out mostly clean, with just a few moist crumbs clinging to the sides. Immediately pour the reserved kombucha evenly over the hot cake so that it can soak in as it cools. After cooling completely, the cake sit covered at room temperature, for at least 24 hours for the best results.

If you’d like a little pinch of additional sweetness, top with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar right before serving.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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The Last Last-Minute Gift

Browse around the web for five minutes or more and you’ll undoubtedly run across at least a dozen “last-minute gift guides,” all touting effortless tokens for the people you forgot you should care about. Heartwarming stuff to consider right before Christmas, isn’t it? Since Chanukah has been long over for weeks now, it’s strange to watch it all unfold from the sidelines, without getting swept up in the madness as I usually do each year.

Of course, I do still have one suggestion here at the eleventh hour, but I’ll level with you: This post is more for my benefit, but you might just enjoy the results, too. Why sit on this fabulous candy recipe for another full calendar cycle, holding it back through the austere days of the New Year while everyone suffers a collective sugar hangover? While your sweet tooth is still in gear, set aside a few extra minutes for this simple yet transcendent treat. I had merely wanted to play around with the gold-tinted crystals of Zulka sugar that the company had been kind enough to send my way, but the toffee that came of my kitchen capers was anything but ordinary.

My dad, a man who knows his way around all things candy and an avowed sugar-supporter if I ever did meet one, claimed that this was some of the best toffee he ever had. No small compliment coming from such a knowledgeable source! So, if you find even one inch of space remaining on your cookie plate, in your candy baskets, or simply in your stomach, take that last-minute before the holidays all blow over to make yourself a batch. If one crisp, golden, nutty morsel of toffee is the last sugary taste on your lips for the rest of 2013, it would leave you with a sweet memory of the season indeed.

Golden Macadamia Toffee

1 Cup Toasted, Lightly Chopped Macadamia Nuts
2/3 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Zulka Sugar
1 Tablespoon Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, lightly grease, and sprinkle the macadamia nuts and white chocolate chips as evenly over the bottom as possible. Set aside.

Combine the margarine, sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar, and then keep your spatula out of the mixture until the very end. Instead, swirl the pan gently to mix the contents, which will help prevent premature crystal formation.

Allow the margarine to melt and sugar to dissolve before clipping a thermometer to the side of the pan. You’ll want to bring the sugar to a steady boil, until it turns a deep amber brown color and reaches 300 degrees, which is also known as the “hard crack stage” of candy making.

Turn off the heat, carefully stir in the vanilla as it may sputter angrily, and immediately pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Try to pour it evenly over the goodies within, because the more you spread it around with your spatula, the more you’ll smear the melting white chocolate. Don’t worry if it doesn’t reach all the way to the edges of the pan.

Let cool completely before snapping into more manageable pieces. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Printable Recipe


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Unfussy French Food

Hunkering down, deep within the thick folds of a well-worn comforter that has served its time for over a decade of hard winters, even that soft fortress can’t block out all of the invading icy air. Slipping in through the cracks, falling like the snow itself and covering everything in an invisible weight, there are few ways to fight off this attack. Drawn to warmth like a moth to light, inevitably, I find myself standing in the kitchen, blankets cast aside, in search of something to thaw me from within.

I know, I know, yet another post about being cold! I promise I’ll stop complaining from here on out, but the truth of the matter is that winter is here and there has never been a better time for a seriously robust, restorative stew. Ironically enough, this particular red wine-soaked play on the classic French Boeuf en Daube started life as little more than photography fodder way back in the revitalizing, sunlit days of spring. Searching desperately through the archives for this soothing stew, a rich and hearty melange of savory mushroom essence, salty olives, and gentle spices, I found that the formula was mysteriously missing in action. How could it have been withheld for all this time? To tease that image and not share a recipe is downright cruel, and for that terribly oversight, I’m very sorry!

Plenty of “beefy” stews exist out there, so this is far from ground-breaking material, but trust me: This is the last recipe you’ll ever need. Simply prepared, easily frozen and saved for later, and of course, that complex, intensely savory flavor that can only come from layers of quality ingredients, care, and time. This is what comfort tastes like, steamy enough to cut through any deep chill.

Non-Boeuf en Daube

2 Cups TVP Chunks or Soy Curls
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Finely Diced
5 – 6 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Cup Peeled and Diced Carrots
3/4 Cup Pitted Kalamata Olives
1 14-Ounce Can Fire-Roasted, Diced Tomatoes
1/4 Cup Dried Porcini Mushrooms, Finely Chopped
4 – 5 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
3 Small Bay Leaves
1 Cup Dry Red Wine
1 Cup Mushroom Broth
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Date Molasses
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Liquid Smoke
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cooked Rice or Pasta, to Serve (Optional)

Bring enough water to cover the TVP or soy curls (about 2 1/2 – 3 cups) to a boil and let stand for 30 minutes. Once your protein of choice has fully rehydrated, drain the excess liquid thoroughly and set aside.

Coat the bottom of a large pot with the oil and set on the stove over medium heat. Add in the onions and garlic when the oil begins shimmering, and saute for 4 – 5 minutes until golden brown. Introduce the carrots and olives next, cooking for another 3 minutes or so before incorporating the diced tomatoes, including the liquid they’re packed in, and dried mushrooms. Give the mixture a good stir and it come up to a steady simmer.

Go ahead and add in all of the remaining ingredients at this point and reduce the heat to low or medium low, keeping the stew at a very gentle simmer. Continue cooking until the carrots are meltingly tender and the liquid has significantly reduced. This could take anywhere from 2 – 3 hours, so be patient! The resulting nuanced depth of flavor cannot be rushed.

Remove the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme right before serving. Ladle over your favorite starch for maximum enjoyment.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Leftover Links: December Edition

Another month brings us another batch of sweet eats and food for thought, so let’s get right to it and dig in!

‘Tis the season for simple sugar cookies, and if you don’t yet have your recipe lined up, I have an excellent new option for you to consider. Made with a combination of standard all-purpose and sorghum flour, this unique blend turns out a dough that is easy to roll, won’t spread in the oven, and still retains a soft, chewy texture. Ideal for painless prep and enjoying later, it’s a win-win cookie for both the baker and the eater.

Winter weather may not be synonymous with cool, refreshing smoothies, but I’m doing my part to change that. In the winter issue of Allergic Living, I’ve shared three seasonal blends that are sure to satisfy, even if snow lines the ground in your neck of the woods, too.

Hurry on over to The Recipe Renovator for a chance to win five awesome new cookbooks (Easy as Vegan Pie included, of course) plus a whole bunch of fun kitchen toys and treats! You only have until tomorrow to enter, so don’t wait around to throw your hat in the ring. Stephanie has also shared my recipe for Rock’n Roll Elvis Pie, which you won’t want to miss, if only for that addictive Oinkless Bacon Brittle.

And for the curious, you can catch a brief interview with me written by Ellen Kanner, plus the recipe for Chocolate Chipotle Sweet Potato Pie at the end of the article.


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Another Iron in the Fire

Holiday shopping mania is predictably growing to a fever pitch yet again, making expeditions into any store a veritable mine field of aggressive sales pitches and tempting impulse buys. Shiny new toys beckon to both young and old, crowding out more rational thoughts of measured resistance. It’s easy to get sucked in, especially when deeper discounts promise “the best deals of the season!” no matter how many times the price is still sure to drop. Though I’m far from immune from this siren song, and probably the worst person to consult about saving vs. splurging, it’s simply become too much to stomach. Tired of watching every outing turn into yet another spending opportunity, I’m ready to swear off the stores and start shopping through my own dusty shelves instead.

There’s a whole trove of rarely used culinary treasures stashed away in kitchen cabinets and buried under the everyday staples. Move aside the gently warped sheet pans and cake tins flecked with faint patina, and once prized possessions suddenly come back into sharp focus. Humble, common, and yet so rarely employed, it’s the waffle maker that sits at the bottom of the stack, one of the oldest kitchen residents aside from the storage unit itself.

A victim of dish washing aversion, it’s not the usage, but the cleanup afterward that prevents me from plugging in and firing the iron up. Once silly excuses can be put aside, that small inconvenience is quickly forgotten by the ease of preparation. Putting it into perspective, such hassle is on par with managing mini muffin pans and their many crumb-filled crevasses that must be addressed. That’s a small price to pay for breakfast bliss, especially compared to the price tag of yet another superfluous gadget.

As for the waffles themselves, you truly can’t go wrong no matter what flavor adventure you embark upon. Basic batters tend to get a more appreciative reception around here, so I kept mix-ins to a minimum while infusing a pronounced pomegranate taste into every bite. If it were just me eating, I would toss in a generous handful of arils without a second thought, but that uniquely crunchy texture can be rather polarizing, as I’ve found with my typical panel of taste-testers. Regardless, the pomegranate molasses is not optional or replaceable, since nothing else will deliver the same deep, tangy, and slightly earthy punch.

Should that secret ingredient prove to be elusive, don’t let that become another excuse to let your waffle iron remain cold for another season! Consider the recipe below merely a template for crispy yet fluffy waffles of any flavor, given a few quick swaps. Use any fruit juice or even plain old water instead of pomegranate, lose the cinnamon or add more spices to the party, and consider maple syrup, agave nectar, or standard molasses instead of the pomegranate molasses. Once you start waffling again, you’ll wonder why you ever stopped in the first place.

Pomegranate Waffles

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
1/4 Cup Pomegranate Molasses

Begin by heating up your waffle iron so that it’s ready to go as soon as the batter is, too. Combine all the dry ingredients and then add in the wet. Stir to incorporate, but don’t over do it- A bit of lumpiness is just fine!

Once your iron is nice and hot, grease with cooking spray or margarine, and ladle a healthy portion of batter on top. It really depends on the size of your waffle iron, so don’t be discouraged if your first couple are a little bit funny looking. Cook for about 4 – 6 minutes or until golden brown all over and serve immediately.

If you’d like to save them for later, allow the waffles to cool for completely on a wire rack. Wrap them tightly in a clean plastic bag and stash them in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Yields about 4 – 6 large waffles, or 8 – 12 small, depending on the size of your waffle iron.

Printable Recipe


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Nog-Off: Speed Round Rematch!

Two years after the first fight for vegan nog supremacy went down, the landscape of dairy-free, egg-free holiday beverages has finally shifted once more. The first change is not a happy one; it seems that the Earth Balance Soy Nog has thrown in the towel, bowing out of the game altogether. This would have left a gaping hole in the lineup, but the good news is that a spry newcomer has stepped up to the plate in its wake. Going by the name of “Holiday Nog” by Califia Farms, this rookie is a definite underdog, having appeared on the scene with little fanfare and almost no web presence. It doesn’t help matters that these shapely 48-ounce bottles are Whole Foods Market exclusives, severely limiting their availability across the country.

What the Holiday Nog lacks in distribution, it makes up for in innovation. The first almond-based nog on the market, it fills a niche previously untouched, meaning that those first punches land with great impact on the largely soy-based competitors. Touting itself as a lighter choice, it goes beyond the standard comparison to traditional eggnog, and goes straight for the kill, hitting where it hurts and boasting lower sugar content than any of the other commercial options out there. True to the claims, this milky elixir pours freely, approximately the same viscosity of standard almond milk. Fine for a solo sip, but that kind of thickness really can’t support an added splash of holiday “spirit”.

Without any detectable almond flavor, it was a brash, borderline harsh and definitely manufactured nutmeg note that dominated, storming in a bit too hard and heavy to really enjoy. The rookie must have tired itself out in that first barrage, because the sweetness struck me as rather lacking, too. Some will definitely appreciate this aspect, owing to a light hand on the organic cane sugar, but quite frankly, I wanted a treat that could stand up to the promise of eggnog, and this just wasn’t doing it. Sorry, sports fans, but this kid is down for the count, leaving So Delicious as the reining champ.

For you folks keeping score at home, that brings the final ranking, from most highly to least recommended, to…

1. Coconut Nog by So Delicious

2. Silk Nog by Silk

3. Holiday Nog by Califia Farms

4. Rice Nog by Rice Dream

Don’t let me tell you what to fill your mug with, though. Host you own nog-off at home and taste the options for yourself! I’m giving away a $25 gift certificate for Whole Foods Market, furnished by the natural grocery giant itself, so that you can pick up a full complement of eggless nogs, or whatever else might bring you a bit of edible holiday cheer. All you need to do is be a resident of the US, and leave me a comment about your favorite commercial nog, homemade recipes, or what you like to make with your excess nog once the holidays are over. Make sure your name and email are both entered into the appropriate boxes so I know who to contact! The entry period will be open until Friday the 13th at Midnight EST, so start talking!

UPDATE: After consulting with my very favorite random number generator, together we determined that the winner of the gift card would be…

The owner of comment #40, otherwise known as sara!

If that wasn’t the result you were hoping for, don’t despair. You can still snap up a coupon good for 50 cents of off Califia Holiday Nog should you want to give it a try yourself. Stay tuned for more giveaways to come, too!

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