BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


18 Comments

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


32 Comments

Don’t Crepe Out!

Crepes, those seemingly innocent sheets of batter, endlessly versatile and much loved by eaters across the globe, have been my sworn enemies for as long as I’ve been tall enough to reach the stove top. Most culinary endeavors spur me on, encourage me to rise to the challenge and tackle whatever crazy concept has become embedded in my brain, but crepes? Crepes managed to elude me, through countless attempts and a hundred different recipes. There’s nothing fancy about the batter, resembling a watery pancake base and incorporating standard pantry staples at its most basic, but my hands always failed me once the pan hit the flame. A whole batch of batter would yield one, maybe two serviceable crepes after an hour or more of labor, dozens of other torn, gooey, sticky flapjack sheets landing in the trash, rather than the plate. It could all be chalked up to a lack of finesse at first, those fumbling memories becoming exacerbated by a lack of confidence. I needed help; a crepe intervention, if you will.

Help came in the form of Rachel Carr, a professional crepe wrangler and chef of Six Main in Chester, Connecticut. Offering a brunch class that featured my old nemesis as a star component, it was just the refresher course I needed. Wrapping up a seasonal melange of asparagus and mushrooms within, she highlighted their versatility, playing to their savory side but leaving options for a sweeter conversion. Packed full of tender green stalks and soft, toothsome sauteed shiitake, bursting with umami, the combination makes a strong case for using crepes beyond the dessert course.

Standing over the industrial stove, nimbly flipping one crepe after another without any drama, my own crepe compunctions no longer seemed quite so insurmountable. What’s more, these were gluten-free crepes, lacking the benefit of a wheat base to hold them together. If this formula was so cooperative, so sturdy, the process of turning the liquid mixture into a pliable wrap must be simply a matter of practice. With years of brunch service under her belt, Rachel could very well churn them out in her sleep.

Thus, I don’t yet have my own twist on them, only the inspiration to strike back out in the world of crepes, gluten-free recipe in hand. Rachel so kindly agreed to share her secret formula, ending years of struggle and hunger, effectively putting crepes back on the menu where they belong.

Asparagus and Mushroom Crepes
Reprinted with Permission from Rachel Carr of Six Main

Crepe Batter*:

1 Cup Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Water
1 Teaspoon Coconut Oil
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
Pinch Salt

Filling:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Bunch (Approximately 3/4 Pound) Asparagus
6 – 8 Shiitake Mushroom Caps, Sliced into Strips
1/4 Large Red Onion, Diced
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Hollandaise Sauce:

1/2 Pound Firm Tofu
1/2 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 – 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
2 1/2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/8 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/8 Teaspoon Paprika
1/8 Teaspoon Turmeric (Optional) for Color

To Finish:

Fresh Tarragon, Chives, Scallions, or Parsley, Chopped (Optional)

Whisk together all the ingredients for the crepe batter, until smooth, and set aside.

Prepare the filling by heating the oil in a saute pan over medium heat, and cook all the vegetables until aromatic and slightly soft; 8 – 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the pan from the heat but keep the filling warm.

The hollandaise sauce is made by tossing everything into the blender and pureeing until completely smooth. This can be prepared up to 5 days in advance if stored in the fridge.

Return your attention to the crepe batter, and add up to 1/4 cup of additional water if it has thickened further. It should be the consistency of loose pancake batter, thin enough to spread easily over your pan. Heat a crepe pan or medium skillet with a flat bottom over medium-low heat, and whip the surface very lightly with coconut or olive oil. You don’t need much to prevent it from sticking.

Ladle or pour about 1/4 – 1/3 cup of crepe batter into the pan and swirl it around until the bottom is completely covered. Cook until very lightly browned and the edges begin to curl. Flip the crepe, either using a snap of the wrist or a spatula, and cook the other side briefly, just one or two minutes longer. Slide the finished crepe out of the pan and onto a plate. Fill with the hot mushroom and asparagus mixture, spoon a dollop of the hollandaise on top, and either roll the crepe up or simply fold it in half. Top with an additional drizzle of hollandaise sauce and a sprinkle of fresh herbs, if desired. Repeat until the batter and filling have been used up.

Makes 4 – 6 Filled Crepes

*To convert these to sweet crepes, increase the agave to 2 tablespoons and, obviously, use a more dessert-like filling!

Printable Recipe


21 Comments

A Sweet Start to Spring

There may be a fresh coat of snow on the ground, but here’s some news that will surely put a spring in your step: The spring 2013 issue of Allergic Living Magazine has been been unleashed! Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate with our calendar-assigned seasonal switch, a responsible publication will always follow the rules. Like clockwork, the latest quarterly will hit newsstands near you well before the flowers bloom.

It was my pleasure to work with the incomparable Alisa Fleming once more, illustrating her latest batch of tempting recipes. For this issue, it was all about bringing a bit of sweetness to the early hours of the day, all without any gluten or dairy, and easy options to accommodate any dietary restrictions.

Crisp on the outside but light and fluffy within, Strawberry Shortcake Waffles are sure to pull anyone out of even the deepest winter funk. Softly whipped coconut cream tops off each ridged breakfast cake, complete with gently macerated and fork-tender ripe strawberries. It’s the complete package for anyone who’s craving a bit of decadence first thing in the morning.

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes were clearly designed with the voracious sweet tooth in mind, satisfying that sugar craving without starting the day in a sugar coma. Luscious ripples of brown sugar and cinnamon are swirled throughout each and every flapjack, perfectly fitting their namesakes both in taste and appearance. The whole short stack wouldn’t be complete without a light drizzle of icing, of course.

Recipes this good really shouldn’t be relegated only to the morning’s first meals… Either of them are more than worthy of a dessert or after dinner treat, too!


27 Comments

The Second Storm

“This is the worst winter ever!”

“You do realize it’s still early November, right?”

To that I could only groan, burying my frozen face as deeply into my wind-whipped hair as the paltry jacket hood would allow. Flecks of snow and tiny, sharp pieces of hail battered us head-on as we climbed uphill. It was a silly mistake, really, underestimating the power of the latest apocalyptic weather predictions while overestimating the strength of the car’s tires. Everything would have been just peachy if we had stayed inside, tending the pumpkin seeds in the oven and putting off our trip to the store until morning. We were just too ambitious.

Our grave error in judgement came into clear focus as the car slid slowly down hill, hugging the curves just fine but continuing along without consulting the driver. It was this very Curve of Death that got me last year, so my mom smartly stepped up to man the wheel. Thus, we were in this together, assessing the situation minute by minute with carefully chosen words, attempting not to alarm one another. Eventually the bottom of the slope met our gently free falling vehicle, and it was game over. Nothing could have convinced those wheels to grip and carry us home. The only choice was to set the hazard lights blinking, abandon ship, and trudge a mile home. There are certainly far worse outcomes, but I can’t say it’s exactly how I wanted to spend my evening, nor the most fun challenge to tackle in open high heeled shoes.

Naturally, the pumpkin seeds we left for “just a moment” were roasted to an extra-dark shade of doneness… Otherwise known as burnt.

So what was it that compelled me to suggest leaving the warm, safe house in the first place? Some matter of pressing urgency, a critical need that needed to be addressed immediately?

Oatmeal. Pre-cooked and frozen steel-cut oatmeal from Trader Joe’s, if I must be humiliatingly precise. I never meant to get so impossibly hooked on the stuff, regarding it as a novelty at first but now depending on it for a daily fix. Every single day for at least three years now, this is the stuff that gets me out of bed in the AM hours. Proper oatmeal cookery continues to elude me, and the time required for this morning meal would otherwise be prohibitive. At least, that’s what I tell myself as I reach for a 4th and 5th box on my weekly Joe’s run.

No more. After this little incident, I’m determined not to be completely dependent on Joe to satisfy my craving. Better yet, I can make something that he can’t put in a box, something that can’t be bought, and will hardly take any additional time. It’s all thanks to my handy pressure cooker that it’s possible, and completely painless. Toss ingredients in, set the timer, and in mere minutes the oats are tender, pleasantly chewy, and creamy all at once. A crisp caramelized sugar topping puts standard steel-cut oats on a whole new level, perfect for a holiday breakfast, brunch, or just any day that a treat is in order. Straddling that fine line between healthy oats and indulgent custard, its far richer than the stuff from the freezer aisle, but still something to feel good about getting a second helping of. With or without the added thrill of a brûléed top crust, oats have never had it so good.

Steel-Cut Oat Brûlée

1 3/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Raw Cashews
1/2 Cup Quick-Cooking Steel Cut Oats
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Brûlée Topping:

3 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Water

First, place the non-dairy milk and cashews in your blender and thoroughly puree, until completely smooth. This will create a thicker, richer “milk” to cook the oats in. If you don’t have a high-speed blender, soak the cashews for 4 – 6 hours beforehand so that they break down more readily. Otherwise, you may also substitute 2 cups of full-fat coconut milk or vegan creamer for the two ingredients and skip this step altogether.

In your pressure cooker, combine the blended cashew creme, oats, salt, and maple syrup, and stir well. Bring to high pressure and cook for 11 minutes, and then let the pressure fall naturally (natural release) until the seal is broken and the lid can be opened. Mix in the vanilla extract.

Divide the cooked oats equally between 4 – 6 ramekins, and let cool to room temperature. The oatmeal can be refrigerated and stored for up to 5 days at this point, frozen for 3 – 4 months, or Brûléed right away. If using frozen oats, allow them to fully thaw first, and if using chilled oats, allow them to come back up to room temperature.

Mix together the brown sugar and water to create a thick sugar paste. Spread 1 – 2 teaspoons over the tops of each ramekin filled with oats, to evenly coat the surface. Place the ramekins under a hot broiler set to high, and cook until the sugar bubbles and caramelizes. Serve immediately, with berries or sliced bananas if desired.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,526 other followers