BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Around the World in 80 Plates: Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

This is it: The final stop on our edible adventure. It’s been quite a journey, tasting our way through nearly a dozen unique cuisines, and racking up just as many recipes as souvenirs.  Converting a different palate of flavors into a vegan plated dessert every week has proven more difficult than I initially envisioned, but it’s impossible to imagine having approached the challenge any other way. To think, that I would have once considered adding savory dishes into the mix! I guess that’s just not what comes most naturally to my sweet-toothed disposition. So, for a grand finale to cap off a feast of world travel, we’ve arrived at last in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.

While I’d like to say that I’m well acquainted with the culture and the fine nuances in the indigenous edibles, the truth is that I spent about 15 minutes just trying to pronounce “Uruguay” correctly. Sure, it doesn’t seem so complicated, but for some reason I could just not wrap my tongue around all of those consecutive vowels. Luckily, it turns out that one of the most popular desserts there is much easier to swallow.

Postre chajá, a layered affair involving sponge cake, peaches, whipped cream, and meringue is actually named after a type of bird. Somehow the fluffy dessert made its inventor think of this feathered creature, however inexplicably, and the name has remained intact since. Though the combination of flavors and textures immediately grabbed me, inspiration for my final dessert didn’t come until the last minute. Rather than simply creating an elegant, bite-sized version of the original, it suddenly became clear that I had all the components here for a baked Alaska to remember.

Tender rounds of vanilla cake are topped with a dome of creamy peach ice cream. The whole stack is smothered in my foamy eggless meringue, doused in high-octane spirits, and promptly set ablaze. Admittedly, I hit a snag at this stage and had to resort to the trusty kitchen torch for a more even browning, but the little cakes can easily be tossed into a fast oven should the meringue need a bit more of a crisp. The quickly melting interior is revealed after slicing each snowy peak in half, and the plate is completed with slices of soft peaches and a simple fresh peach sauce. In fact, the sauce is so simple that I didn’t measure a thing. Two whole, ripe peaches went into the blender along with agave to taste, and just enough non-dairy milk to puree. It’s a fittingly sweet note to end this series on.

The final episode of Around the World in 80 Plates airs this Wednesday at 10/9c on Bravo. Who will win, and what will they cook? Don’t miss the culmination of this whirlwind trip across the globe!

Postre Chajá Baked Alaska

Vanilla Cake
Peach Melba Ice Cream, Minus Raspberry Ripple (Vegan a la Mode, page 164)
Meringue (Vegan Desserts, page 191)

80-Proof or Greater Rum, Brandy, or Vodka
Sliced Fresh Peaches
Lightly Sweetened Peach Puree, if Desired

To put the baked Alaska together, freeze the freshly churned and still soft peach ice cream into silicon hemisphere molds. Let them set up solidly in the freeze; at least 4 hours. Meanwhile, slice out rounds of cake with 2 3/4-inch circular cookie cutters. Line the pieces up on a small tray, and chill thoroughly in the fridge.

When you’re ready to serve, top each round of cake with a hemisphere of ice cream, and smooth a generous coating of meringue all over. Make sure that you seal the edge where the cake meets the plate, to prevent heat from getting in and melting the ice cream too soon. Sprinkle each meringue-covered dessert with alcohol, and use a long match to set each on fire. Once the flames burn out, quickly slice the towers in half, and plate each half with a few fresh peach slices and a smear of peach puree, if desired. Eat immediately!

Makes about 6 Servings

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.


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Around the World in 80 Plates: Buenos Aires, Argentina

These past few weeks of constant culinary travel really did wear me out, so I can only imagine how the chefs actually making the trek must feel! After a much needed one week intermission, we’re back on the road again, pounding the pavement in search of new edible inspiration. Today, our path brings us to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Buenos Aires, alive with bright colors and lively music through all hours of the day, immediately brings to mind tango dances and beautiful beaches, but desserts? Not so much. Luckily, there does seem to be a universal craving just beneath the surface, and everyone from school children to their grandparents can agree that dulce de leche is pretty much the unofficial sweet spread of this capital city, and beyond. Whereas peanut butter or nutella might be commonplace on breakfast toast in the US, you’re much more likely to find a sticky jar of caramelized milk jam on the table here. It truly shines, of course, when it comes time for dessert, and that often means wedged between two delicate shortbread cookies in the form of alfajores. Though found in many parts of South America, there’s a good amount of variation between cultures, with some containing no gooey dulce de leche filling at all. Argentinians win the honor of calling Alfajores their own, by my own estimation, since they firmly hold the title as the world’s largest consumer of those addictive sugary sandwiches.

[Glass platter provided by Steelite]

Still in the grip of a killer heat wave back at home, all I can think about are chilled, frozen, or otherwise cooling treats, so ice cream is still front and center on my mind. Whipping up a dulce de leche-flavored creamy concoction with the help of my coconut milk-based Dulce de Coco from Vegan Desserts, the rest of the plated dessert came together effortlessly. The plated version pictured above includes a fluffy crown of whipped coconut creme and long ribbons of toasted coconut flakes, calling to mind the optional dip in coconut flakes that some alfajores take, and harmonizing beautifully with the subtle coconut essence of the ice cream. No need to get so fancy if the heat becomes too much to bear; Just slap a scoop of the ice cream between two cookies, roll in coconut flakes like the original, and you’re good to go.

Check out Around the World in 80 Plates, this Wednesday 10/9c on Bravo, to see if the remaining chefs also indulge in dulce de leche, or stick to the savories in Buenos Aires.

Ice Cream Alfajores

Dulce de Coco Ice Cream:

1 Cup Dulce de Coco (Vegan Desserts, page 213)
2 1/3 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Shortbread Cookies:

5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/8 Teaspoon Almond Extract
3/4 Cup Cornstarch
1/2 Cup + 2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
2 – 3 Tablespoons Full-Fat Coconut Milk

Garnish:

Additional Dulce de Coco
Whipped Coconut Creme
Lightly Toasted Coconut Chips
Mint Leaves and Nasturtium Blossoms or Other Edible Flowers (Optional)

Beginning with the ice cream, be sure to have the dulce de coco prepared and fully cooled in advance. Whisk it into the non-dairy milk in a medium saucepan, and vigorously beat in the cornstarch as well, ensuring that all lumps of starch are broken up and incorporated. Set the pan over medium heat on the stove, and whisk occasionally, until it comes to a full, rolling boil. Turn off the heat before stirring in the vanilla and salt. Let cool to room temperature before thoroughly chilling the mixture in the fridge, for at least 3 hours. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When finished spinning, smooth the still soft, freshly churned into silicon hemisphere molds for a plated presentation, or simply transfer to an air-tight container. Store in the freeze to set up solidly; at least 5 hours, to be certain that it won’t immediately melt on the plate.

Meanwhile, to make the cookies, preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. Set aside.

In your stand mixer, beat the margarine briefly to soften, and then cream it together with the sugar. Beat thoroughly until homogeneous, and then add in the zest and both extracts. Mix to incorporate.

Separately, whisk together all of the remaining dry ingredients in a large bowl. Incorporate them into the stand mixer with the speed on low in two additions. Scrape down the sides of the work bowl as needed, to ensure that everything is being mixed in smoothly. Finally, drizzle in the coconut milk 1 tablespoon at a time, just until the dough comes together when pressed. It should be a fairly firm, almost crumbly dough, so don’t go crazy with the added liquid. If it’s too sticky, it won’t roll out properly.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and use a rolling pin to flatten it out to about 1/8th of an inch in thickness. Cut out rounds with a 2 3/4- or 3-inch fluted cookie cutter, and transfer the shapes to your prepared baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time for about 15 minutes, until the tops of the cookies no longer look moist, but not so long that they look browned. The finished cookies should remain very pale.

Cool completely on wire racks, and chill further before applying the ice cream.

To make a simple ice cream sandwich, just take one shortbread cookie, plop a scoop of the ice cream on top, and finish it off with one more cookie. You can wrap them individually and store them in the freezer, to be doled out as desired.

For the plated presentation, start by piping out a few decorative dollops of coconut whipped cream on top of one cookie, and artfully sticking a handful of the toasted coconut chips into it. Place a second cookie on the plate, and pop out one hemisphere of solidly frozen ice cream. Stack the ice cream puck on the plain cookie, and carefully balance the decorated cookie on top. If it threatens to slide off, lightly melt the top of the ice cream dome with a hot knife or metal spatula, just enough to flatten out the peak slightly. Finally, garnish the plate with additional dulce de coco, mint leaves, and nasturtiums if desired.

Makes 6 Plated Desserts, with Extras for Nibbling

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.


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Around the World in 80 Plates: Hong Kong, China

Every culture can lay claim to many edible innovations, and would like to believe themselves to be the original “foodies,” but that title should arguably be handed over to people of Hong Kong, China. No where else in the world do more inhabitants share this collective obsession with such a fervor. More than just a melting pot of outside influences, but a true stew of culinary concepts, the cuisine is a well-seasoned mixture of both Asian and Western flavors, each component blending harmoniously into the mix while still retaining its original integrity. In such a diverse cauldron of mouthwatering options, how does one begin to ladle out the goods? What are the best bits to search for when it all looks so delicious?

Luckily, opinionated as ever, there are many locals who have taken it upon themselves to counsel poor lost souls like myself, who don’t know a thing about the most fundamental eats to experience when in town. Though wildly varied in suggestions, one dish in particular seemed to pop up on every single list, whether it was on a brief overview, a top 40 account, or an exhaustive itinerary mapped out for maximum gustatory pleasure. Hong Kong Toast, a variation on what we know as French Toast, was the exceptional edible that had everyone raving. Much thicker and richer than our flabby, sandwich bread renditions, HK toast is much more like bread pudding all condensed into a single slice. Lavished with butter and drowned in sweetened condensed milk, it’s a breakfast fit for dessert, especially when stuffed with peanut butter as it often is found. Frequently referred to simply as “toast,” such a humble title conceals a heavy-hitter to remember. As per usual, those in the know got this pick right.

Paying homage to the cafe culture and another favorite beverage, bubble (or boba) tea, my miniature toast bites are topped with a snowy peak of whipped coconut creme and “milk” tea-infused caviar. By steeping the tapioca pearls in the tea itself, these tiny flavor bombs remove the need to guzzle down a full glass of liquid to achieve the same flavor sensation. That’s not to say that they’re suitable only as sprinkles, though- Leftover milky spheres can be popped effortlessly into a different type of drink for added effect! Imagine lightly green tea with delightfully toothsome black tea boba tumbling about the bottom. Why not give the same old drink an extra dose of delicious?

Finishing off my toast bites with colorful coffee stirrer straws rather than toothpicks, they’re easy to eat with your fingers, and the visual should remind eaters of the thick straws typically wedged into tall glasses of bubble tea. Though my rendition was straight-forward toast, each tiny cube could easily be injected with peanut butter using a piping bag, much like a hot doughnut would be filled with jelly. Insert the piping tip into the bottom to hide the hole, and dip carefully!

How many other top 10 dishes will the chefs hit when they visit Hong Kong? Tune in to Around the World in 80 Plates, this Wednesday 10/9c on Bravo to find out.

Hong Kong Toast Bites

“Milk” Tea Bubbles:
Adapted from What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat Anyway?

1/4 Cup Small Tapioca Pearls
1 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Chinese Black Tea
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Plain Soy or Coconut Creamer

Sweet Pan de Mie:

1 Cup Vanilla Soy or Coconut Creamer
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/4-Ounce Packet (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
3 – 4 Cups Bread Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

Toast Dip:

1 Cups Water
1/3 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Pinch Salt

To Finish:

Peanut Butter (Optional)
Melted Non-Dairy Margarine
Coconut Whipped Creme
Coffee Stirrer Straws (or Toothpicks)

The tea bubbles should be prepared first, because they’ll need to sit at least overnight and ideally for an entire day for the fullest flavor.

First, soak the tapioca in warm water for at least 20 minutes, an set aside. Seperately, place the tea leaves in a strainer and add that to the water in a small saucepan. Heat to a boil, and then remove from the stove. Stir in the sugar to dissolve, and let steep for 15 minutes, covered. This is technically over-steeping the tea, but you want a more concentrated flavor than usual in this case.

Meanwhile, after the tapioca pearls have soaked, strain thoroughly and heat a medium pot of water on the stove. Keep the pearls in a strainer for easier maneuvering, and once the water boils, dip them into the water for 45 seconds. Remove the whole strainer-full and quickly run them under cold water. Repeat this process of blanching the bubbles as many as 6 – 8 more times, until the tapioca pearls are all translucent, and there are no more traces of white in the centers. This incremental method of cooking will prevent them from getting gummy and overdone on the outside.

Remove the tea strainer from the pot of water, and mix in the cooked tapioca, along with the “creamer.” Cover and let infuse for 16 – 24 hours.

To make the bread, see my original recipe posting for instructions, substituting the “creamer” for soy milk and sugar for agave. Let cool completely before cutting with a serrated bread knife into 1-inch thick slices. Remove the crusts, and slice each piece into 1-inch cubes.

The dip couldn’t be simpler- Just toss all of the ingredients into a high-speed blender and puree until smooth. Strain if needed, and transfer to a medium saucepan. Cook just until bubbles begin to break on the surface, and the liquid has slightly thickened. Let cool completely before using.

Finally, we’re ready to assemble the toast bites! Now is when you should fill the cubes with peanut butter if desired. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with a silpat or piece of parchment paper. Toss each square of bread briefly into the dip, being sure to coat each side. Move the dipped cubes over to the prepared baking sheet, and repeat until all the pieces are assembled. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until golden brown all over. Depending on your oven, you may want to rotate the sheet halfway through baking (I didn’t and paid the price. Burnt toast is never a treat, even when it is soaked in a rich custard.) Brush each piece lightly with melted margarine for extra buttery richness. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before topping with a dollop of coconut creme and a thoroughly drained spoonful of “milk” tea caviar. Trim coffee stirrers by an inch or so if too long, and insert firmly into each piece of toast. Enjoy warm, or chill and eat cold later on!

Makes Approximately 1 1/2 – 2 Dozen Toast Bites

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.


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Around the World in 80 Plates: Bologna, Italy

Florence and Bologna may be separated by a mere 75 miles or so, but the cultural differences are truly worlds apart. Bologna, Italy, part of the Emilia-Romagna region is nicknamed as both “the learned one” (la dotta) and “the fat one” (la grassa) in reference to its eponymous university and rich cuisine, respectively. A telling indication of what’s to come, Bolognese food pulls no punches, and doesn’t hold back when it comes to meats, cheeses, and pastas. What does this mean for a vegan with a sweet tooth? …Very little. After briefly toying with the idea of a dessert ravioli, I decided to spare you that cutesy interpretation, and look deeper into traditional desserts of the area. Like any city worth visiting, it does have a number of tried-and-true, classic sweets all its own. Nuts, wine, and many eggs seem to color the dessert menu, but what caught my eye was the curiously named zuppa inglese.

You’d be forgiven for believing that you were ordering “English soup” based on the direct translation, but in fact the dish couldn’t be further from that description. Thought to be named after the inspiration of an English-style trifle, it’s actually more like tiramisu, but minus the coffee and plus a more powerful punch of alcohol. Cake or lady fingers are dipped into bright red liqueur known as alchermes, which gains its otherworldly hue from cochineal (beetles.) Luckily, many variations on the theme exist on this very popular Bolognese dessert, and the general consensus is that anything red will do. Rather than an insect infusion, a simple mixture of bright red maraschino cherry juice and ordinary rum fit the bill quite nicely. In the same “anything goes” mentality, some recipes call for vanilla custard, while others lavish their lady fingers with a rich chocolate pudding. Why choose when you can have both? The alternating layers keep each bite interesting, and blend beautifully with the boozy, fruity biscuits.

Tune in to Bravo this coming Wednesday at 10/9c to see how the chefs manage a second round of Italian inspiration!

Zuppa Inglese

1 Batch of Lady Fingers from Vegan Desserts (page 222)

Cherry Syrup:

1/2 Cup Liquid from Maraschino Cherries, or Grenadine
3 Tablespoons Rum

Vanilla and Chocolate Custard:

1/2 Cup Raw Cashews, or 1/3 Cup Raw Cashew Butter
2 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
5 Tablespoons Cornstarch
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
Pinch Salt
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2.5 Ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Finely Chopped Chocolate

Chocolate Curls or Shavings
Natural Maraschino Cherries
Dark Chocolate Crisps

You’ll want to prepare the lady fingers first so that they’re completely cool before you use them. Cut them so that the pieces are 2-inches long and will fit flush against the sides of your mold. For the dipping syrup, simply stir together the cherry juice and rum in a small bowl. Set aside.

Place two 2-inch square silicon ice cube trays on a sheet pan for easy maneuvering later on. Have the lady fingers and syrup nearby before beginning to make the custards.

If using a high-speed blender, toss in the cashews and grind them down to a coarse meal. If using a food processor or traditional blender, just plop in the cashew butter. Whole cashews should only be used if you have the horsepower to blend them completely smooth; otherwise, your dessert will be gritty. Gradually pour in the “milk” with the machine running to more easily combine the two. Pause to add in the sugar, cornstarch, arrowroot, nutritional yeast*, and salt. Blend on high until completely smooth. Pass the mixture through a strainer to ensure there are no remaining bits of nuts.

Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and set over moderate heat. Whisk gently until it comes up to a full boil, and then remove the pot from the stove. Stir in the margarine and vanilla, whisking until the margarine has completely melted. Pour about 1/3 of the hot custard into a medium bowl, and to that bowl, add the chocolate. Let that sit for a moment so that the chocolate can melt, and then stir thoroughly until entirely smooth and perfectly chocolatey.

Working quickly, pour 1 – 2 tablespoons of the vanilla custard into the bottoms of each cube mold. Dip the cut lady fingers into the syrup, and press them gently into the molds to cover the bottom layer. Follow that with 1 – 2 tablespoons of the chocolate custard, and then another layer of dipped lady fingers. Finally, pour vanilla custard in to fill the molds to the top. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before moving the sheet pan of both molds into the freezer. By freezing them solid, they will be much easier to remove and handle. Let rest in the freezer for at least 3 hours.

Meanwhile, you can create a quick sauce from the leftover dipping syrup by cooking it over low heat, until it reduces down to a thicker consistency. Just keep a close eye on it and bear in mind that it will continue to thicken a bit as it cools. Set aside.

Once the custard stacks are thoroughly frozen, gently pop them all out onto the tray. The alcohol in the lady fingers won’t freeze, so those layers will have a tendency to separate. Just coax the whole thing back together as needed, and reassemble if necessary. Let the custards thaw at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving.

To serve, first drizzle a plate with the reduced cherry syrup, and place one cube of layered custard in the center. Top with a generous handful of chocolate curls or shavings, a chocolate crisp, and a maraschino cherry, to garnish.

Makes 10 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.


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Around the World in 80 Plates: Florence, Italy

Talk about a wild ride- After gradually traveling towards warmer, more exotic destinations, the next logical stop was certainly not the one we made. In fact, my expectations couldn’t have been further from Florence, Italy, but that is precisely our destination this week! Back to Europe we go, to a cuisine that most Americans are not only well acquainted with, but can practically call their own. Rather than the heavy pastas and red sauces commonly thought of as generic “Italian food,” however, Tuscan cooking has a distinctly different flair. Harkening back to peasant cooking, there’s no room for fancy flourishes or haute gourmet dishes here. With great difficulty, I reigned in my plated dessert impulses, swearing up and down to keep this inspired recipe as simple as possible. Something without a half-dozen components, crazy ingredients, or labor-intensive preparations; No funny stuff allowed. Conjuring up faded memories of the graceful architecture and warm, gentle sunshine from my last visit nearly a decade ago, I could distinctly recall that the clean, bright, and unfussy flavors of the food itself was what made it so good.

Thrilled by the challenge, it was nonetheless a struggle. It would be so good with a sauce! What about a crunchy crumb topping? Oh, these should be individual, deconstructed presentations! Though enticingly aromatic fresh out of the oven, it just seemed so plain, so boring. The ideas kept flowing, tempting with different ways to dress it up should all else fail. But with one bite, those thoughts evaporated like the steam wafting from each warm slice. Simple was perfect.

Strawberries and tomatoes, though seemingly an odd couple, bring out the best in each other for both sweet and savory preparations. Just as comfortable together in a salad as this free-form pie, the savory, gently acidic bite of the tomatoes serves to accentuate the sweetness of the berries. Just like a pinch of salt can make any dessert pop, the combination of these apparently discordant tastes, in the right balance, creates a more complex and satisfying dish overall. Focused on featuring these key players and nothing else, I further intensified their basic flavors by first roasting them, concentrating their inherent sweetness and tartness, before baking the bright red jam into a flaky, sugar-sprinkled crust.

“Rustic” is one of my least favorite words in the English language, applied to everything from house decor to clothing, but especially food. One might be tempted to describe the humble galette as such, but first consider all of the love and care that goes into each pastry. They may not be fancy, but every single element is keenly attended to, making sure they taste their absolute best. Simple shouldn’t mean plain, dull, or forgettable. Especially when this unusual dessert is topped with finely shredded basil for the ultimate herbaceous finishing touch, it’s hard to top it- Except with a single scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream, perhaps.

Will the chefs also keep it simple when they visit Florence, Italy? Tune in to Bravo this coming Wednesday at 10/9c to find out!

Roasted Strawberry-Tomato Galette

Basic Single Pie Crust, Chilled
Vegan “Egg” Wash
Turbinado Sugar

Filling:

1 Pound Fresh Strawberries, Hulled and Halved
10 Ounces Whole Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
1 Vanilla Bean, Split and Seeds Scraped
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper

4 – 6 Leaves Fresh Basil, Fine Chiffonade (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and pull out an 11 x 7-inch rectangular baking dish.

Toss together all of the ingredients for the filling, saving the vanilla bean pods for another application. (Best use: Make some vanilla sugar!) Spread the sugared fruits out inside your baking dish, making sure that everything is in one even layer. Bake for 60 – 65 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so. After about 20 minutes, the mixture will become very juicy- Don’t panic, this is a good thing! Continue cooking until the excess liquid thickens, becoming syrupy, and the fruit is fairly jam-like in consistency. Cool completely before proceeding.

To complete the galette, roll out the unbaked pie crust on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about an 1/8th of an inch in thickness, as round as you can possibly make it. Don’t fret if it’s a bit misshapen; that will only add to the charm. Transfer the flat circle of crust to a silpat- or parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and pile your jammy roasted strawberries and tomatoes in the center. Spread the filling out evenly in the middle, leaving a border of about 2 inches clean. Fold over the sides to contain the filling, and lightly brush the exposed crust with you “egg” wash of choice. Sprinkle lightly with turbinado sugar.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 – 40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling bubbly. Don’t fret if some of the juices spill out of the sides, as there will still be plenty within. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before topping with a light touch of fresh basil, if desired, and serve immediately while still warm.

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.


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Around the World in 80 Plates: Marrakech, Morocco

Synonymous with both tea and a blend of herbs and spices born from within its bustling marketplace, Marrakech, Morocco is a city that truly has its own distinct flavor. The entire continent of Africa remains largely a mystery to me, having never visited any corner of this huge section of the world, and yet I feel strangely connected to Morocco in particular, all thanks to its strong food culture. Two of the most amazing ladies I worked with, side by side for many years at Health in a Hurry, both hailed from this northern nation. So many of the recipes were infused with their unique palate of flavors, that they became a common, comforting taste, even in our sleepy little New England town.

Upon hearing that this was the next destination on our frenzied food tour, immediately my mind went to tagines. Perhaps the best known of all Moroccan dishes, most modern renditions aren’t even made in the vessels they’re named for- At least, on US soil, that is. Still, I fought the urge to take the easy way out. It may be a culture with a sweet tooth, but desserts are often that final course that American restaurants inevitably ruin. Delicate pastries somehow turn into soggy, leaden mush, and fruit salads leave me uninspired. Thus, with only the idea of Moroccan ingredients and sensibilities to guide me, I found my answer… With a more modern twist.

Plate provided by Steelite

Mourad, a cookbook that bills itself as “new Moroccan” cuisine and is derived from the fine dining establishment of Aziza in San Francisco, held the answer to my prayers. A startlingly Italian-sounding panna cotta got my wheels turning, and from there, everything simply fell into place. Delicate rose water perfumes the firm pudding itself, which is placed atop a shallow pool of pale pink hibiscus sauce. Lightly spiced almond brittle is the crown to this humble tower, with orange supremes, pomegranate arils, and fresh mint leaves accenting with their fresh, bright, fruity flavors. Incredibly, it all came together in the eleventh hour, bringing this exotic yet curiously familiar palate of sweet seasonings back into my kitchen again at last.

Be sure to tune in to Bravo this coming Wednesday at 10/9c to see what Moroccan delights the chefs come up with, too!

Rose Water Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta:

2 Teaspoons Agar Agar Powder
2/3 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
6 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
2/3 Cup Vegan “Sour Creme”
2 6-Ounce Containers Greek Coconut Yogurt
2 Teaspoons Rose Water
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Hibiscus Sauce:

2 Cups Cold Water
3 Bags Hibiscus Tea
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Orange Zest
2 Tablespoon Cornstarch

Almond Brittle:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Water
2 Tablespoons Light Corn Syrup
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Pinch Salt
1 Cup Sliced, Toasted Almonds

To Serve:

Pomegranate Arils
Orange Supremes
Fresh Mint Leaves

Lightly grease six 3 1/2-Inch fluted mini tart or brioche molds and place them on a sheet pan for easier maneuvering. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, vigorously whisk together the agar, “milk,” and sugar until there are no lumps remaining. Set the pan over medium-low heat, and gently whisk until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Take the pan off the stove to stir in both the “sour creme” and coconut yogurt, mixing until smooth, and then return it to the heat very briefly. Cook the mixture just until bubbles begin to slowly break on the surface, whisking the whole time. Add in the rose water and vanilla, whisk to incorporate, and quickly transfer the contents of the saucepan to your prepared molds. Gently tap each one on the counter to knock out any air bubbles before smoothing out the tops with a spatula. Let cool completely at room temperature before thoroughly chilling.

For the hibiscus sauce, plunk the tea bags into the water in a small saucepan. Place it on the stove over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Immediately turn off the heat and cover, allowing the tea to steep for 20 – 30 minutes. Once deeply rose red in hue, remove the tea bags and allow the excess liquid to drip out, but do not squeeze them- This will cloud the mixture. Separately, stir together the sugar, orange zest, and cornstarch until thoroughly combined, and add these dry goods into the saucepan. Return it to the heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid bubbling and fully thickened. Let cool before chilling in the fridge.

To make the almond brittle, begin by combining the sugar, water, corn syrup, cinnamon, and salt in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Resist the urge to stir, and gently swirl the pan to mix the contents instead. Bring the mixture up to a boil, and continue to cool until the sugar caramelizes and turns a pale amber color. Meanwhile, set out a silpat or piece of parchment paper nearby where the brittle can come to rest. Once the sugar syrup has reached the right shade of golden brown, quickly stir in the sliced almonds to coat them evenly in the mixture, and waste no time in pouring everything onto your prepared silpat or parchment. Smooth out the brittle into as thin a layer as possible. Let cool completely before breaking it into pieces.

To serve, spoon about 1/4 – 1/3 cup of the hibiscus sauce onto the plate, and turn out one panna cotta on top. Wedge a piece of the almond brittle into the crest of the panna cotta, fan out three citrus surpremes alongside, and sprinkle pomegranate arils on top. Finish it all off with a few mint leaves to garnish. Repeat for the remaining plates.

Makes 6 Servings

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.


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Around the World in 80 Plates: Barcelona, Spain

Pack your bags and don’t forget your sunscreen- For the next leg of our global cooking conquest, we’re headed to Spain! Barcelona, Spain, to be precise, where dishes sparkle with bright, bold, and fearless flavors. Making paella may be the extent of my experience with this vast, richly varied cuisine, but it’s from that generous hammered metal pan that I drew inspiration for this week’s well-traveled recipe. Rice and vegetables needn’t apply, however, because this is a job for saffron alone. The signature spice that breathes life into this savory simmered rice is just as well suited to savory tastes as it is sweet.

Ice creams still churning endlessly on my mind, a glorious, golden saffron scoop was an irresistible concept. An ideal treat for such the perpetually warm climate of Spain, or the increasingly sweltering summer days ahead for most of us at home, a fuss-free and refreshing recipe was the only way to go. Fine delicacies such as saffron need little to make any dish pop, but I couldn’t help but gild the lily further with a smattering of crunchy cashews. Lending their roasted, slightly salty flavor to the party, their gentle nutty taste is the perfect compliment.

Be sure to watch Bravo this Wednesday at 10/9c when Around the World in 80 Plates hits Barcelona!


Saffron Cashew Ice Cream

2 2/3 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Teaspoon Saffron
3/4 Cup Roasted and Lightly Salted Cashews, Divided (1/4 cup blend in base, 1/2 chopped)
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
3 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
2 Teaspoons Cornstarch
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

For starters, combine the non-dairy milk and saffron and let sit for 8 – 12 hours, or overnight to infuse.

Once the saffron has turned the “milk” a golden-yellow color after a nice, long soak, pour that liquid into the canister of your blender. Add 1/4 cup of the cashews along with the sugar, agave, arrowroot, and cornstarch. Roughly chop the remainder of the nuts and set them aside for later.

Blend on high speed until the nuts are completely pulverized and the whole mixture is completely smooth. This may take as long as 8 – 10 minutes if you’re not using a high-powered model, so be patient. Pass the mixture through a fine strainer to filter out any remaining cashew pieces. Transfer the smooth base into a medium saucepan and begin to cook over moderate heat. Whisk periodically until it reaches a rapid bubble. Turn off the heat and add in the and vanilla. Cool and then let it sit in the fridge for at least 3 hours, until thoroughly chilled.

Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In the final 5 minutes of churning, introduce the remaining chopped cashews directly to the machine while it continues to spin, evenly distributing the pieces throughout the soft ice cream. Transfer to an air-tight container and store in the freezer for at least 3 hours, to fully solidify, before serving.

Makes About 1 Quart

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.


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Around the World in 80 Plates: London, England

Roots firmly planted in cozy New England, I hardly fancy myself a traveler, but who could be content to leave so much of the world unexplored? So many cultures to discover, beautiful places to visit, and yes, food to eat. Almost every year, I’ve been lucky enough to make one journey out of my cozy home-based bubble and see just a little snippet of some place different. Wanderlust sets in as temperatures rise, and so I’m feeling that familiar tug on the heartstrings, that longing to hop on a plane and have another grand adventure. Inspiration is always the most valuable souvenir, and these brief but influential trips have indelibly shaped my palate and cooking style as I know it. That’s why I’m so excited about Bravo’s newest Top Chef-esque program, Around the World in 80 Plates.

Trust me, TV shows rarely merit an hour break in my schedule, and not one has ever seemed like worthwhile blog fodder for a new post. However, when asked to participate in a little blogger-based competition driven by the premise of cooking dishes alongside the progression of the show, paying homage to these specific world cuisines, my answer was clear: YES! As the only vegan invited in a group of 5 bloggers, it’s up to me to represent all things meat-, egg-, and dairy-free. The gauntlet has been thrown down.

Around the World in 80 Plates premieres this Wednesday at 10/9c on Bravo, and the first location isn’t a vast departure from the norm; Stopping in London, England, dessert was clearly the only worthy offering for such a sweet-toothed country. Torn between the fruity, caramel-coated goodness of banoffee pie and decadent, toffee-flavored spoonfuls of sticky toffee pudding, I decided not to choose between the two. Instead, all the best qualities of each are combined into one, creating a Banoffee Sticky Pudding. Ultra-moist banana pudding is drenched in lightly boozy toffee sauce, and topped with brûléed banana slices. Lightened with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream melting over the still-warm pudding, it hardly needs the final crown of a crispy, dehydrated banana, but it sure does look prettier for it. Not many desserts can be described as messy and elegant all at once, which makes this playful rendition a dessert to remember.

Authentically British? Heck no. But authentically inspired, you bet!

(My original sketch- Came out pretty close to what I imagined!)

Banoffee Sticky Pudding

Banana Puddings:

1 Cup Brewed Black Tea, Still Hot
1 Cup Pitted Medjool Dates, Roughly Chopped
3 Medium-Sized, Very Ripe Bananas
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Cup Canola Oil
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

Toffee Sauce:

3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
Pinch Salt
2/3 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Dark Rum

Garnishes:

4 – 6 Ripe but Firm Bananas
Lemon Juice
Granulated Sugar

French Vanilla Vegan Ice Cream (page 50)

Banana Chips (Optional, for a Shortcut)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 8 4-ounce ramekins and set aside.

Place the chopped dates in a small bowl, and cover them with the hot tea. Let soak for 30 – 60 minutes, to soften the dried fruits a bit. Set aside.

Peel the bananas and break them up into chunks before tossing them into your food processor or blender. Follow them with the vinegar, vanilla, oil, and sugar. Puree until smooth.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining dry goods so that everything is thoroughly incorporated and well-distributed, and add everything into the food processor. Pulse lightly to bring the batter together, pausing to scrape down the sides of the work bowl as needed. Once the mixture is almost completely smooth, finally add in the mixture of dates and tea, and pulse to incorporate. Don’t go too crazy though- You want to keep some nice chunks of dates remaining, and be careful not to overwork the batter.

Distribute the mixture between your prepared ramekins, and set them in a large baking dish or roasting pan, to create a make-shift water bath. Make sure that none of the ramekins are touching; you may need two separate baking dishes to hold everything. Place the ramekin-filled baking dish(es) in the oven, and quickly but carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish. Avoid splashing water into the puddings themselves, and try not to drip into the oven. Add water until it reaches about half-way up the sides of the ramekins, and then cover with foil. This will allow the puddings to steam and bake up delightfully moist and soft.

Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a pudding pulls out with only a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Use non-slip tongs to pull the puddings from the water bath; leave the boiling hot water in the oven until it’s cool enough to handle, to prevent any disastrous spills.

While the puddings are in the oven, go ahead and start the sauce. Place the sugar, margarine, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, and slowly bring to the boil. Once the margarine has melted and the sugar dissolved, let the mixture bubble and cook for a about 2 – 3 minutes before carefully pouring in the coconut milk. Bring the mixture back up to a bubble, and cook for a final 2 – 3 minutes, until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Finally, stir in the rum, and remove from the heat. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

To make the finishing touches, you will want to make the banana chips well in advance, or simply buy banana chips to top off your sweet tower. Otherwise, slice two bananas lengthwise as thinly as possible without breaking them into pieces; any thicker than 1/8-1/4 inch thick, and you’ll end up with chewy banana leather instead (not altogether a bad thing, but not what we’re going for.) lightly brush the strip with lemon juice, and lay them on a silpat-lined baking sheet. Slowly dehydrate at 200 degrees for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Check on them every 30 minutes or so, and don’t expect them to be crisp right out of the oven. They will continue to firm up after they cool. If they’re still not quite crunchy once cool, flip them over, and bake again for 30 – 60 more minutes.

Finally, for the brûléed bananas, slice 4 bananas into 1/4-1/2 inch chunks, ideally on a bias to give you a bit more surface area. Place the pieces on a silpat-lined baking sheet and lightly coat them with lemon juice. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top in a fairly thick layer- Don’t be shy about it. Run them under the broiler in the oven for 5 – 10 minutes, until the sugar is melted and golden brown all over. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

To plate up all of these components, start by placing one steamed pudding on the plate. Spoon a generous amount of toffee sauce on top, and place a small ring of 3 – 4 brûléed banana pieces on top of that. Place a scoop of ice cream in the center of the ring, and finish the whole thing off with one large banana chip. For a more low-key presentation, feel free to skip all the fancy garnishes and just throw some toffee sauce right into the ramekin. Enjoy warm!

Makes 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

For participating this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.

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