BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Summer’s Sweet Bounty

Much has been said of California cuisine, and as it remains a nebulous and often contentious concept at best, I won’t even begin to add my two cents to that short-changed conversation. Rather, I can’t help but marvel at the availability and variety of raw ingredients that make it all happen. It’s easy to see how a chef could be inspired to try anything once, maybe twice, when the basic components are all so accessible, to say nothing of their inherent flavor or beauty. Each trip to one of the many farmers markets is guaranteed to yield a cornucopia of edible inspiration. Where else can you find locally grown pistachios, two or three dozen distinctive varieties of peaches, and rainier cherries for an unbelievable price of $2 per pound, all in one place? San Francisco has developed a reputation as being a farm-to-table foodie’s paradise, and it sure is working hard to keep that title.

Of course, I took this opportunity to positively gorge myself on ripe seasonal fruits. The siren song of those soft, explosively juicy nectarines was impossible to resist, no matter how messy they were to eat. Apricots came home with me in aromatic, golden heaps, piled so high on the kitchen counter that it seemed impossible to eat them without aid. Somehow, I always managed.

That’s to say nothing of the berries. Despite missing out on the prime berry bounty, it was still a real treat to enjoy locally grown options, and at such bargain basement prices. As a little ode to my Californian summer, it was only fitting to gather up a small sampling of what I had on hand, along with the famed sourdough that beckons irresistibly in every reputable bakery’s store front. Fresh mint plucked straight from the tiny windowsill garden completed this little love note to my temporary, adoptive home state.

Light, fresh, fast, it’s the kind of recipe that depends entirely on the quality of your ingredients. Consider it as a serving suggestion; more of an idea than a specific schematic, to be tailored to whatever fruits are fresh and in season in your neck of the woods.

California Dreamin’ Panzanella

5 Cups Cubed Sourdough Bread
2 Cups Pitted and Halved Cherries
2 Cups Seedless Grapes
1 Cup Blackberries
1/4 Cup Zulka Sugar or Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Walnuts
Fresh Mint Leaves, Thinly Sliced

To Serve:

Coconut Whipped Cream (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spread your cubes of sourdough bread out on a baking sheet in one even layer and bake them for about 15 minutes, until golden and lightly toasted all over. Let cool completely before proceeding.

In a large bowl, toss together all of the fruits and remaining ingredients. Toss in the toasted bread, right before serving, last to ensure that it stays crisp. Mix thoroughly so that everything is well distributed and entirely coated with the sugar mixture. Enjoy immediately with a dollop of whipped coconut cream, if desired.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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No Use Crying Over Melted Ice Cream

What initially looked like a terrible tragedy, a loss of incomprehensible proportions, turned out to be happy accident in the end. It was an average day, punctuated by various chores and assignments, with a considerable grocery shopping expedition in between. Distracted by all the to-dos and a rapidly shrinking timeline, something was bound to get overlooked. It’s just a sad shame that it had to be the ice cream.

Tucked haphazardly into the fridge and not the freezer, hidden slightly behind a bushy clump of kale, there it remained for a full day before my grave error had been realized. By then it was far too late, the previously frozen dessert fully liquified into a pale white puddle, sloshing around freely within the container. Re-churning the mess in my ice cream maker did cross my mind, but no doubt the texture would never be quite the same. Immediately searching for a solution, loath to think that such a precious treat would be wasted because of a careless mistake, my thoughts turned to the possibilities of a little kitchen alchemy. Melted ice cream is no more than non-dairy milk, sweetener, and some sort of thickener, so why couldn’t it function as such in another application?

Proving that the sum is so often greater than its parts, this humble pie requires a mere seven ingredients, from crust to filling, thanks to the convenient combination neatly packed up in the form of vegan ice cream. Strawberries and cream are a classic duo in the first place, and they truly shine together in this brilliantly simple ode to spring. The only baking required is a brief flash in the oven to set the crust, but this can be further simplified with a ready-made rendition if you’re especially pressed for time. Even more impressive than this recipe’s effortlessly delicious outcome is its versatility, easily adaptable for any season. Swap out the berries for just about any fresh fruit that’s ripe and ready, such as peaches or apricots in the summer, pumpkin puree in the fall, baked apples or pears in the winter; the potential for different flavors is practically endless.

But for now, I’m sticking with strawberry since spring is in the air and berries are on the table. Another serendipitous opportunity to come out of this initial disaster is that it became an ideal entry to the Spring Fling Dairy-Free Recipe Contest hosted by So Delicious and Go Dairy Free. Even if it doesn’t win any prizes, this quick save is definitely a winner by me. With this foolproof formula under my belt, next time, I might even let the ice cream melt on purpose.

Strawberry-Cream Pie

Vanilla Cookie Crust:

5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 1/2 Cups Finely Ground Vanilla Wafer Cookie Crumbs

Strawberry Cream Filling:

1 Pound Fresh Strawberries
1 1/2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 1/2 Teaspoons Agar Powder
1 Pint So Delicious Vanilla Coconut, Almond, or Soy Ice Cream, Melted

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the melted margarine or coconut oil with the cookies in a large bowl, stirring thoroughly to completely moisten every last crumb. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch pie pan and use your hands to press it evenly across the bottom and up the sides. If it’s too sticky to handle with ease, lightly moisten your hands before proceeding. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool while you move on to the filling.

Wash, hull, and roughly slice the strawberries before tossing them into your blender along with all of the remaining ingredients. Puree until mostly but not entirely smooth, leaving a few small chunks of berries intact. If you’d prefer a silkier texture, continue blending until no lumps remain, and pass the pink mixture through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the seeds. Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and set over moderate heat. Whisk frequently as it warms up, cooking until it comes to a full boil. Continue stirring vigorously for a full two minutes and then pour the hot filling into your prepared crust.

Tap the pan lightly on the counter to release any air bubbles, and let cool to room temperature. Only then is it safe to transfer to the fridge to continue cooling. Don’t rush this process, since an agar gel that’s cooled too quickly will weep and become watery later on.

Once fully chilled and solidified, slice and serve with additional fresh berries if desired- Or, additional scoops of ice cream!

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Pavlovian Conditioning

Fancy and flour-free, it’s unlikely that you’d find any dessert better suited for Passover than the classic pavlova. Crispy meringue cradles whipped cream and fresh fruits, creating a simultaneously light and rich sensation all in one bite. Based heavily on egg whites and dairy, this versatile treat is surprisingly easy to veganize while remaining every bit as luscious. Pictured above is a miniature interpretation, perfect for a single serving so that no one has to share.

It all starts with the Meringue Cookies on page 191 of Vegan Desserts, piped in small nest shapes with a large star tip. For a particularly spring-y rendition, the addition of lemon zest for flavor and a tiny pinch of turmeric for a sunny yellow hue does wonders to perk up the plain vanilla base. After baking for the time as written, just drop down the oven temperature to 250 and bake for an additional 15 – 20 minutes longer to yield perfectly crisp shells, through and through. Once cooled, simply fill the indentation of each little cookie with a dollop of whipped coconut cream and a handful of ripe berries to seal the deal.

The combination of crunchy lemon cookie, creamy whipped coconut, and juicy berries will undoubtedly have all your guests drooling.


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Do You Believe In Magic?

Imagining them as the product of sorcery or witchcraft does a disservice to the whole concept of magic bars. Rather, the creation of such enchanting treats ought to be considered as kitchen alchemy, no less miraculous than an otherworldly spell.

How else could one explain the process of turning what appear to be discordant ingredients into this classic layered assembly of cookies, chocolate, nuts, and coconut? Especially when the process demands little more effort than what’s required to switch on the oven, it strikes me as a particularly bewitching sort of everyday magic. Of course, the original cast of characters is fairly mundane, in need of a new rising star and fresh script. Inspired by the play on words, black magic lured me over to the dark side for this delicious twist.

Blackberry puree, spiked with a touch of lime and vanilla, cloaks my supernatural sweets in fresh, seasonal berry flavor. Supported by a dark, devious crust of chocolate cookies rather than the standard graham crackers, the bars take on a high-contrast color scheme to better match their title, not to mention add a bolder bite.

Treading that fine line between crumbly, crunchy, and even a bit chewy, the toothsome texture is only one of many reasons why this classic concept took hold so many years ago. What’s even more incredible is how little effort goes into whipping up a batch. From fridge to table in under and hour, they may truly seem like the product of some black magic.

Black Magic Cookie Bars

1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Finely Ground Chocolate Cookie Crumbs
1 Cup (5 Ounces) Fresh Blackberries
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1 1/2 Teaspoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Lime Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2/3 Cup Unsweetened, Shredded Coconut
1/2 Cup Chopped Raw Walnuts or Pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together the chocolate cookie crumbs and melted margarine or coconut oil so that the whole mixture is nicely moistened. Transfer to your prepared baking pan and use the flat bottom of a measuring cup or drinking glass to firmly press the crumbs down in an even layer. Place in the fridge to chill while you prepare the remaining layers.

Place the blackberries and lime juice in your blender or food processor, and thoroughly puree, until the berries are are smooth as your machine can manage. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing down hard on the pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the seeds.

Mix the resulting seedless blackberry puree, sugar, cornstarch, arrowroot, lime zest, vanilla and salt together, and pour over your chilled crust. Evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts over the top, gently pressing all the goodies in to ensure that they stick.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the berries mixture bubbles up slightly around the sides and the coconut on top appears to have toasted to a golden brown hue. Cool completely before cutting into bars or squares. Store covered at room temperature for up to four days.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe


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Berry Curious

It just might be the greatest berry you’ve never heard of. Limited to very small regions of Europe and North America, the Jostaberry is a specialty fruit that you won’t find in supermarkets any time soon. Delicate to a fault, they’re difficult enough to pick by hand without crushing or bruising. Unsurprisingly, no machines have been invented to make them a commercially viable option. Moreover, their prime harvesting season passes in the blink of an eye, encompassing two weeks each July at the most. Perhaps this very elusive nature adds to their allure, but I’d wager that they’d fly off the shelves should they ever become as common as apples and oranges. Luck was simply on my side when I discovered that Lyman Orchards, supposedly the one and only source on the east coast, had them ripe for the picking.

In a class of their own, the Jostaberry is a cross between a black currant and a gooseberry, explaining some of their tart, slightly astringent qualities. Pronounced with a “Y” as a reflection of their German heritage, “Jostaberry” is a portmanteau that comes from a blend of Johannisbeere and Stachelbeere- The German words for both aforementioned varieties. When fully ripe, their sweetness develops further, blending in notes of blueberries, kiwis, and grapes, all into one tiny, juicy bite. Easily eaten out of hand, the real challenge is picking- and saving- enough to weave into recipes later. Their high pectin content makes them ideal for jams and jellies, but by the time I got back home from the fields, not even half the volume of berries I had intended for baking remained.

Jam was out of the question for this season, but my precious Jostaberries became the stars of the show inside classic crumb muffins instead. Moist and bursting with that unique berry flavor, it’s no secret that the muffins themselves are merely vehicles for consuming large clumps of the dark drupes at once. Moist, soft and lightly buttery, the surrounding batter provides a gently sweetened backdrop that allows the berries to take center stage. The only thing that might improve the combination is perhaps a quick jaunt through the toaster oven, followed by a thick smear of that jam I had dreamed about… But that pairing will just have to wait for the next limited harvest.

Jostaberry Crumb Muffins

Crumb Topping:

1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour Flour
1/3 Cup Almond Meal
1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Oil

Jostaberry Muffins:

1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Medium, Ripe Banana
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Water
1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Oil
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Heaping Cup Jostaberries

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and either lightly grease or line 12 standard muffin cups with papers.

Prepare the topping first by stirring together the brown sugar, flour, and almond meal in a small bowl. Drizzle in the melted coconut oil while mixing with a fork, until all of the crumbs are moistened and sticking together in coarse clumps. Set aside.

For the body of the muffins, pull out your blender or food processor, and toss in the sugar, banana, lemon juice, and water. Thoroughly puree, until completely smooth, before adding in the melted coconut oil, non-dairy milk, and vanilla extract. Blend once more to fully incorporate.

Sift the flour into a large bowl along with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add in the jostaberries and toss to coat with the dry goods, which will help prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins while baking. Pour the liquids from your blender into the bowl, and stir lightly with a wide spatula, just to combine. Don’t go crazy about getting out every last lump; a bit of unevenness is just fine.

Equally distribute your batter between your 12 prepared muffin cups, mounding them up slightly towards the center, and then do the same for the crumb topping. It may seem like a whole lot of crumb, but don’t be shy and pile it on! Bake for 5 minutes, and then without opening the oven, reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for an additional 13 – 16 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let cool completely before enjoying.

Makes 12 Muffins

Printable Recipe

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