BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Pumpkinundation

Is it safe to come out yet? Have the relentless demands for all things pumpkin-spiced died down, at least to an intermittent, dull roar? I’ve been hanging onto one gem of a pumpkin recipe for months, but selfishly withheld it from the blog-reading public, fearing it would become lost in the sea of squash.

No, wait, don’t click away just yet! Rather than another sweet interpretation of the seasonal gourd, loosely modeled around the flavors of a pie rather than the actual vegetable, I’m much more fond of pumpkin when it actually tastes like, well, pumpkin. Crazy though it may be, I’d much prefer to see pumpkin turn up as a savory offering during the main meal instead of just the grand finale, capped off with an avalanche of sugar and seasonings so strong that they obscure the inherent flavor of the star ingredient. Food producers and well-meaning cooks alike seem to have forgotten the pumpkin’s potential outside of the dessert realm.

Even if you’re feeling burnt out on pumpkin, I would implore you to give it another shot when re-imagined in matzo ball format. Completely nontraditional and aligned with entirely the wrong Jewish holiday, these are definitely not your Bubbie’s matzo balls. Bound together with roasted pumpkin puree, I prefer to think of them more as matzo dumplings, since they bear a denser, more toothsome texture than the fluffy pillows of Passover lore. The goal of this wintery interpretation was not to perfect the vegan matzo ball, but to create something with the same sort of comforting flavors, revamped with a more seasonal spin.

Moreover, purists would be horrified at my cooking methods. A baked matzo ball, for crying out loud? That’s downright heresy in some kosher kitchens, I’m sure. The beauty of this approach is that rather than getting soggy dumplings, halfway dissolved into a puddle of lukewarm soup, they stay perfectly intact until the moment your spoon carves through the tender spheres. Allowing for effortless advanced preparation, just keep the dumplings safely out of the golden, vegetable-rich pool until the moment you’re ready to serve.

On a blustery, cold day when nothing but a heartwarming bowl of soup will do, this is my idea of comfort food. Owing nothing to the overblown pumpkin trend, it’s still worth keeping your pantry stocked with a can of the stuff, just in case a craving strikes.

Pumpkin Matzo Dumpling Soup

Matzo Balls:

1 1/3 Cups Fine Matzo Meal
2 Teaspoons Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup Very Finely Minced Yellow Onion
1 1/2 Cups Roasted Pumpkin Puree, or 1 (14-Ounce) Can 100% Solid Packed Pumpkin Puree
1/4 Cup Olive Oil

Vegetable Soup:

6 Cups Vegetable Broth
2 Small Carrots, Thinly Sliced
2 Stalks Celery, Thinly Sliced
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1/4 Cup Fresh Dill, Minced
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, stir together the matzo meal, salt, garlic powder, baking powder, and soda. Yes, it may seem like a lot of salt, but it gets rationed into many little matzo dumplings. Don’t back down on the amount or else you’ll risk making bland balls! Make sure all the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout before adding in the minced onion, tossing to coat. Combine the pumpkin puree and olive oil in a separate container, whisking until smooth, and pour the wet mixture into the bowl. Mix with a wide spatula, stirring thoroughly to combine, until there are no remaining pockets of dry ingredients. Let the matzo batter sit in a cool spot for about 15 minutes to thicken before proceeding.

I like using a small cookie scoop for more consistent dumplings, but a good old fashioned tablespoon will do just fine as well. Scoop out about 2 teaspoons of the matzo mixture for each dumpling, rolling them very gently between lightly moistened hands to round them out. Place each one on your prepared baking sheet about 1/2-inch part. There’s no risk of them spreading, but giving them a bit of breathing room helps to ensure more even cooking. Repeat until all of the batter is used and you have a neat little army of raw matzo balls ready to be baked. Lightly spritz the tops with olive oil spray for better browning, if desired.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, rotating the sheet pan halfway through, until golden brown all over.

Meanwhile, prepare the soup itself by combining the broth, carrots, celery, and onion in a medium stock pot. Bring it to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking until the carrots are fork-tender. Right before serving, add in the fresh herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle out some of the soup into each soup bowl and add in the baked matzo dumplings right before serving. Enjoy piping hot!

Makes 35 – 40 Dumplings; About 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Red, White, and Sweet All Over

As I’ve found to be true for other bloggers, a quiet front on the wide open internet usually means frenetic activity behind the scenes. Although poor little BitterSweet may not be the beneficiary of all the daily food prep and photography, the oven hasn’t even had a chance to cool down for a moment in the past week.

Considering the skyrocketing popularity of red velvet cake, I was eagerly awaiting an opportunity to re-examine this classic confection and infuse it with a fresh palate of new flavors. That occasion lined up perfectly with the changing seasons, dropping the inspiration to add cranberries right into my lap.

The recipe for this alluring Cranberry Red Velvet Cake can be found on Go Dairy Free. In case you were looking for a prime Thanksgiving dessert that wasn’t the same old standard pumpkin pie, consider your search complete. A seasonal treat with its own bold style, it would be simple enough to convert the cake into a more everyday affair by turning it into cupcakes, too.

Elsewhere, my nearly ancient Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipe got a little facelift over on VegKitchen. First born from the oven about seven years ago, it was due for a small revamp in the writing department, and a big overhaul in the photography department. While the formula was solid before, it’s a knock-out, no-fail winner now, with some much more attractive visuals to boot.

The days may be growing darker and colder, but I’m just getting warmed up. There are a whole lot more sweet (and savory) treats to come soon!


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Brace for Impact

Nerves fraying more severely than the sleeves on my favorite old sweater, our newest friend Sandy has us all running scared around here. Although we still have yet to meet the old gal, she’s already hurling wind and a few scattered raindrops our way, no doubt a mere hint of what’s to come. Even the most dire forecast can usually be ignored or at least rationalized, but when officials say that it will likely be worse than Irene, and can cause “life-threatening devastation,” well, that’s not so easy to brush off. After losing last Halloween in that brutal beating and having my very first car accident due to the road conditions, I for one am pretty nervous.

It’s a good thing that before even learning of this Frankenstorm, it turned out that I was already preparing food for it. Of course, food and electricity are at the top of the list of concerns for this vegan blogger, so thank goodness that at least the edibles are covered.

Devilishly spicy but not unbearably so, these crunchy roasted pumpkin seeds are dosed in tongue-tingling sriracha. Lightly salted and easy to munch, they were intended to be an ideal Halloween party snack, but instead are also perfectly suited to become emergency rations. Shelf-stable in an air-tight container for up to a month, this nutty blend of pumpkin and sesame seeds will prove ideal to munch on should the power go out.

There’s a million and a half ways to roast pumpkin seeds, but it never hurts to have a new flavor concept. Even if you’re not concerned about massive flooding or the potential for a week or more without electricity, I have a feeling these would still be just as enjoyable.

No matter where you are, stay safe everyone! Here’s hoping that Halloween festivities are the most frightening events in coming days, and not the aftermath of Sandy.

Sriracha Seeds

2 Cups Raw, Fresh Pumpkin Seeds (From 1 Medium Sugar Pumpkin)
2 Tablespoons White Sesame Seeds
2 Tablespoons Black Sesame Seeds
2 Tablespoons Sriracha
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Coarse Sea Salt

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silpat; set aside.

Toss all the seeds into a medium-sized bowl along with the sriracha and olive oil. Stir well to combine and thoroughly coat the dry goods with the liquid seasoning. Pour everything out onto your prepared sheets, and spread the seeds into a single even layer. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt before popping them into the oven.

Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until golden brown, stirring every 20 minutes or as needed. Let cool completely before eating or storing in an air-tight container.

Makes about 2 Cups

Printable Recipe


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You Don’t Know Jack-o-Lantern

Once the highlight of every autumn, Halloween has begun to lose its charm. Once an opportunity to escape into an alternate persona, collect hordes of sweet treats, and explore new neighborhoods filled with bright lights and wild decorations, now it’s little more than a note on a calender page. Much of that has to do with simply growing older no doubt, an unfortunate side effect of becoming too mature or too serious. More than that, however, the great prize at the end of the journey holds little allure now. Artificially flavored, colored, and pumped full of unsavory fillers, not to mention the sad prevalence of animal products in mainstream options, the whole song and dance seems somehow hollow without that great candy climax to look forward to. For someone with an active and voracious sweet tooth to reject free candy has got to say something.

Rest assured, not all candy has lost its appeal. The homemade, hand-crafted stuff is in a category of its own, especially since it’s the sort that no parent would allow their child to take on a trick-or-treat outing. Ironic that the mass-produced junk would be considered a safer, better option. Fine by me though, because that only means I get to horde more of the choice picks for myself, such as these lightly spiced pumpkin pâte de fruits. Gummy candies all grown up, these seasonal treats are perfect for the entire autumn season, not just the standard Halloween sugar high.

Soft yet toothsome, the crunch of sugar coating the outside gives way to smooth pumpkin jelly, tinged with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. A hint of molasses adds depth, contrasted by a bright splash of cider vinegar. Unlike so many other “pumpkin spice” novelties, these edible orange jewels genuinely taste like the gourd of their namesake.

Pumpkin Pâte de Fruits

1/4 Cup Solid-Packed (Canned) Pumpkin Puree
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Juice*
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Molasses
2 Cups Granulated Sugar, Plus Extra to Coat
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1 3-Ounce Package Liquid Pectin

*I ran about 1/4 of a medium-sized sugar pumpkin, gutted, peeled, and sliced into 1-inch strips, through my juicer to yield around 1 cup of pumpkin juice. If you don’t have a juicer, don’t fret! You can also chop up the raw pumpkin into piece, toss them into a food processor or blender, and thoroughly puree. Strain from a very fine-meshed sieve or nut milk bag, and save the solid pulp for another use. It’s great for making crackers or dog treats!

Line a 4 x 8-inch loaf pan with aluminum foil, and lightly grease; Set aside.

Place the pumpkin puree, pumpkin juice, cider vinegar, molasses, sugar, and all the spices in a medium saucepan, stirring to combine. From this point forward though, keep that spatula out of the pot until the very end, lest you create nasty sugar crystals while the candy is forming. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, gently swirling the pot periodically, until the mixture reaches 238 degrees (soft ball stage.) At last, pour in the pectin, and stir briefly to incorporate. Continue cooking at a steady boil 2 minutes longer.

Transfer the hot, liquid candy into your prepared pan, and let sit at room temperature until completely cool. It should be solid enough to pull out of the pan at this point, using the foil as a sling. Use a very sharp knife, lightly coated in oil, to slice the rectangle into small, two-bite squares. Toss the squares in additional granulated sugar to coat, and store in an air-tight container at room temperature. The candies will last for about 1 week… If you can keep the ghouls and goblins away!

Printable Recipe


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Fall Flavors

Seasonal transitions can be rough, especially when they feel so abrupt. Leaves began to blush and fall overnight, as temperatures suddenly plunged back into sock-and-shoe territory. The distinct scent of earth fills the cool air, refreshing after a sweltering summer but still jarring nonetheless. Unlike the change over from winter to spring, which drags on endlessly through the first half of the year, this is an efficient changing of the guard; autumn is here, no doubt about it. Still scrambling to adjust, the best way that I’ve found to wrap my mind around the loss of stone fruits, corn, and fresh herbs is to concentrate on the new flavors to be found. Focusing on the positives, fall has just as many delicious tastes to look forward to!

What follows is a brief list of ingredients that first come to mind when I think of the season, along with recipe suggestions to inspire further autumnal appreciation. By no means exhaustive and not necessarily things that are found solely in seasonal cooking, this is simply what fall tastes like to me.

Caramelized onions
Leeks
Figs
Apples
Cider
Hazelnuts
Walnuts
Pears
Rosemary
Sage
Sweet potatoes
Pumpkins
Cinnamon
Ginger
Cloves
Caramel
Chestnuts
Brown “butter”
Oats
Rum
Speculoos

What are your favorite fall recipes, and how are you coping with the transition?

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