BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Dazed and Infused

After making a list and checking it thrice, there was nothing left to chance for my extended stay in Hawaii. Everything was accounted for, from sunscreen to snacks to strobe lights, with a dozen backup batteries in between. Even so, that sneaking suspicion that something had been forgotten stayed with me, like a single dark rain cloud in an otherwise pristine blue sky. Some people worry about leaving the lights on, neglecting to take out the trash, or forgetting to lock the doors, but me? It was only when I decided to extend my stay for a second month that I realized I forgot about something very precious in the fridge.

Climoncello. Yes, you read that right: Limoncello‘s clementine cousin, a byproduct of enthusiastic citrus consumption and an inability to throw any viable foodstuffs away. Tearing through my immense stash in record time left countless peels in my wake. Compost seemed like a cop-out for these highly aromatic remnants, especially when they still had so much flavor left to give.

All it took was a bottle of inexpensive vodka to set the creative wheels in motion. Elevating some undrinkable swill and making the most of my citrus windfall in one fell swoop, it was a perfectly elegant solution. Let the concoction steep for a few days, perhaps a week, and my work would be done.

But there it sat, in the darkened corner of the fridge, while I was living it up in a tropical paradise thousands of miles away. Only when one month became two did I realize my oversight, but little could be done at that point. At worst I would return to a rotting, revolting mess of liquid garbage, so I prepared myself for a potentially unpleasant cleanup effort.

Eternally forgetful but incredibly lucky, it turned out the the extra time didn’t hurt my orange-y brew one bit! Preserved by the alcohol and sugar, those scraps looked as good as new, entirely intact yet spent of their fragrant essential oils. Even if the Pacific Ocean wasn’t standing in between this project and me, I wouldn’t dream of letting it stew for a shorter time now.

Climoncello

14 – 15 Clementine Peels
3 1/2 Cups Water
2 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 (750-ml) Bottle Vodka*

*Don’t waste the good stuff on this, since you’ll be covering up any unsavory notes with your citrus infusion. Just stay away from firewater like Everclear, and you should be golden. I used Popov, for what it’s worth.

Place your peels, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, and cook just until the sugar has fully dissolved. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid, and let cool to room temperature. Use a pestle (or any other blunt instrument, really) to mash the rinds around a bit, bruising them to release more of the essential oils. Pour in the vodka, give it a good stir and transfer the whole mixture, peels and all, into a large glass jar. Seal the lid tightly and stash it in a cold, dark place for about three months. Don’t rush it! If anything, you’re likely to get even greater flavors if you let it steep for an extra month or so.

When the climoncello is ready, the liquid should be a golden orange color and smell of sweet oranges. Strain out and discard the peels, and transfer the liqueur to an attractive glass bottle. Store in a cool, dark place for however long you can make it last. It should keep indefinitely, but you’ll no doubt want to enjoy it before too long.

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Oh, My Darling Clementines

Like clockwork, I’m right back at my usual tricks again, infusing every morsel that crosses my path with a bit of edible sunshine while the real thing plays hard to get. Grapefruits, oranges, lemons, and limes are always close at hand, spilling out of the refrigerated fruit bin and lining the kitchen counters, decorating these dark spaces with a cheerful spray of neon colors. Their natural luminescence does wonders to lift spirits through the most gloomy of days, but it’s truly the bold, bright, astringent flavors that sustain me through winter. This year, I’ve added a new comer to that line-up of faithful fruity regulars: The petite yet powerful clementine.

Luck was on my side this season, as the kind folks representing Cuties Clementines were generous enough to ship an entire crate full of these glowing orange orbs straight to my door. Not to be overly dramatic, but what a revelation! Gone are the days of meticulously picking at the stringy pith of oranges before the segments become edible. The skin practically falls off of these juicy half-moons, nary a seed in sight. No muss, no fuss, they’re the ultimate winter pick-me-up. Naturally, they’re a boon to desserts and other treats as well.

Citrus supremes are a beautiful addition to all sorts of desserts, but they’re such a pain to prepare. Thanks to a combination of dull knifes and insufficient handiwork, mine always end up ragged, sad little slivers of their former selves; certainly nothing to crown a grand finale with. Clementines, on the other hand, pop out of their peels ready to use, unblemished and the ideal size to toss into just about any dish. Simply layering them with plain old soy yogurt, sliced almonds, and berries elevated my boring lunchtime routine into something worth remembering.

Bursting with flavor, sweeter and more mellow than an orange but still plenty punchy, clementines sounded like the ideal pairing with matcha. Cutting through the bitter powdered tea and balancing out the whole dessert, segments top chewy tapioca pearls, cradled in the easiest mini tart shell you’ll ever slap together. No need to break out the rolling pin, this crust is merely pressed into the pans and won’t slip or slide under the heat of the oven, standing tall without the need for pie weights.

Winter, you have officially met your match; the bright taste of these Cuties makes a day without sunshine no big deal. In case you’re suffering from the winter blues as well, I have good news! Furnished by Cuties Clementines, I have a coupon for one free 5-pound crate of these tiny fruits that one lucky commenter can redeem at their local grocery store. Recipients must be located in the US as a result. To enter, leave me a comment before January 18th at midnight EST, and tell me about your favorite citrus fix. What would you do with all of those clementines, if you can resist merely eating them out of hand? Trust me, five pounds sounds like a lot, but they won’t last long with any citrus enthusiast!

UPDATE: After consulting with my very favorite random number generator, together, we determined the winner of this sweet prize to be…

Commenter #12, Harvest + Honey! You will be hearing from me shortly, and for everyone else, stay tuned… Not to give away the surprise, but there may just be more clementines to share very soon.

Clementine and Matcha Tapioca Tartlets

Press-In-Pan Olive Oil Pastry Crust:

1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 – 2 Tablespoons Water

Matcha Tapioca:

1/2 Cup Small Tapioca Pearls
2 1/2 Cups Vanilla Coconut Milk Beverage or Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
2Teaspoons Matcha Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

To Finish:

4 – 5 Clementines, Peeled and Segmented
Fresh Mint Leaves (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease 10 – 12 (3-inch) mini tart molds.

To make the crust, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add in the olive oil and lemon juice, stirring thoroughly to incorporate. Drizzle in the water very slowly, adding just enough to bring the dough together without making it wet or sticky. Break off about 2 – 3 tablespoons of dough for each mini tart mold and press it evenly across the bottoms and up the sides of the forms. Make sure there aren’t especially thick edges left around the base so that it all cooks at the same rate.

Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, turning the pan around halfway through the process to ensure even baking, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before popping the shells out of their metal molds.

For the tapioca, begin by pouring 2 cups of very hot water over the pearls and allowing them to soak for at least 2 – 3 hours. This will soften them and prevent the centers from remaining after cooking. Rinse with cold water and thoroughly drain.

Place the soaked pearls in a medium saucepan along with the non-dairy milk. Whisk together the sugar, matcha, cornstarch, and arrowroot in a separate bowl to break up any and all clumps of the tea powder before adding it into the pot as well. Set over medium heat on the stove and allow the mixture to come up to a boil, whisking periodically and being sure to scrape along the sides and bottom to prevent anything from sticking and burning. Once it comes bubbles vigorously for a full minute, turn off the heat before throwing in the margarine and vanilla extract. Stir until the margarine has completely melted and distribute the hot pudding between the baked mini tart shells, filling them to the top.

Allow the tapioca to fully cool before topping with clementine segments and a few mint leaves, if desired. Serve at room temperature or chill for 2 hours to enjoy them cold.

Makes 10 – 12 Tartlets

Printable Recipe

This recipe is also my entry for the So Delicious 3 Course Recipe Contest. Wish me luck!


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Who’s Your Baba?

Winter survival depends on preparedness; Plenty of moisturizer for dry skin, an ample supply of dry beans and other long-lasting pantry staples, and as many types of citrus as you can cram in the fruit bin. When the snow is falling in thick white sheets with no end in sight, the bright, cheerful flavors of winter citrus are the only things that can rescue my dampened mood. For days short on sunshine, vibrant yellow lemons are the next best thing. Their energizing zest makes its way into salads and desserts alike, while whole oranges and clementines are a favorite midday snack. Grapefruit juice kicks off the morning on a high note, and let’s not forget about those sour little limes.

For whatever reason, limes find their way into fewer of my recipes and daily eats than any other citrus, so it seemed only fair to reverse that trend. Perfect for our recent bout of snow, which is still sticking to the ground and discouraging me from driving out into the suburban wilderness, a yeasted, lime-enhanced cake was just what the doctor ordered. Warming the kitchen as they baked and lifting the spirits once eaten, the winter blues don’t stand a chance with these zesty pastries on hand.

Lime Baba Au Rhum

Baba Dough:

1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Package Active Dry Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Whole Flax Seeds, Ground
3/4 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
2 Teaspoons Lime Zest
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Cup Toasted and Chopped Walnuts

Rum Syrup:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Dark Rum
1/2 Cup Water

Apricot Glaze:

1/2 Cup Apricot Preserves
1 Tablespoon Water

Rather than the typical proofing approach for making bread, these babas are assembled more like a cake. First, whisk together the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and ground flax seeds in the bowl of your stand mixer (if using; otherwise a large bowl will do.) Once the dry goods are thoroughly combined, turn your attention to the liquids. Heat the water and non-dairy milk to about 120 – 130 degrees, but not to a boil, or else you’ll kill the yeast. This should feel hot to the touch but not burn your fingers.

Pour the liquid into the large bowl, and start mixing on low speed. Immediately follow that addition with the lime juice, zest, melted margarine, and walnuts. Continue mixing until the dough begins to come together, and then switch to the dough hook on your stand mixer. The dough will be very soft and sticky, so keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn’t creep up on top of the hook or get stuck to the sides of the bowl. Use your spatula to guide it back as needed, and continue beating for about 5 minutes to develop the gluten. Once fairly smooth, leave the dough in the bowl and cover the whole thing with a piece of plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until nearly doubled in size.

Lightly grease 6 popover tins or 10 – 12 standard muffin cups; set aside.

Gently punch down your risen yeast batter, and divide it equally between your greased tins. Let rise once more for about 30 minutes, or until the dough has expanded to fill the tins. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Once risen, bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown all over. Turn out the yeasted cakes onto wire racks and let cool.

Prepare the rum syrup by simply combining the sugar, rum, and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the sugar has dissolved, and you’re ready to go.

Prick the babas all around the sides with a fork before dipping each in the syrup, to allow for better absorption. Dip each two or three times, and then return them to the cooling rack to rest, or serve immediately.

To serve, microwave the apricot jam and water together for just 30 – 60 seconds, to loosen up the jam and warm it through. Stir well, and apply liberally to the tops of your babas. Feel free to serve with an additional spoonful of the rum syrup over the top, too.

Makes 6 – 12 Babas

Printable Recipe


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Sunshine On a Rainy Day

Oh spring, you’re such a tease. Naturally the 70-degree, sunny weather couldn’t last, but did you have to go so far in the opposite direction, so quickly? Now grey clouds have rolled in and settled downward, engulfing and insulating our little town from the rest of the world. Like a blanket of cushy bubble wrap, I’m comfortably stuck in place; this fog is thick enough that I can pretend it’s still winter. Not that I really want to, of course… I think we’ve all had enough winter for one, or perhaps two years at this point.

So here we are, arriving at April’s doorstep, with an atmosphere just barely warmed over and the forecast still foreboding. The only thing to do is bake muffins, and those muffins absolutely must contain bright, cheerful citrus- I think it might even be a law in some states. Consider these simple yet comforting lemon-poppy seed sweets as artificial sunshine for this dark, chilly time in between seasons. Better than an anti-depressant, in my opinion.

Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins

Poppy Seed Topping:

2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
6 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Poppy Seeds

Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins:

2 Cup All Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 1/2 Teaspoons Poppy Seeds
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Vegan “Sour Cream” or Non-Dairy Yogurt
2/3 Cup Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Canola Oil
2 Teaspoons Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a baking tin of 12 standard muffin cups.

To first make the topping, simply mix together all of the ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a fork, until thoroughly combined and slightly clumpy. Set aside.

Moving on to the main muffins, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, poppy seeds, and salt in a large bowl. Make sure that all of the dry ingredients are thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the “sour cream” or yogurt, lemon juice, canola oil, lemon zest, and vanilla until smooth. Pour these wet goods into the bowl of dry, and with a wide spatula, stir just enough to bring the two together. Make sure there are no remaining pockets of flour hiding in the batter, but it’s alright if a few small lumps remain.

Distribute the batter between the prepared muffin cups, and don’t be afraid to really mound them up- The more the tins are filled, the better the muffin tops will be. Sprinkle your poppy seed topping evenly over each unbaked muffin, piling it on until you’ve used it all up.

Bake for 16 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers of the muffins comes out clean, with perhaps just a few moist but fully baked crumbs clinging to it. Let rest in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack until completely cool.

Makes 12 Muffins

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WholeSoy Story

Plagued by a bad reputation and image issues for years, it’s safe to say that soy yogurt has finally moved out of the dark corner of specialty health food store and into mainstream markets. Once viewed as a sad substitute, more akin to radioactive sludge than cultured dairy products, this basic staple has come a long way in a very short time. Particularly thanks to WholeSoy & Co., dairy-intolerant folk all across the country have reason to be thankful come lunchtime, snack time, and even dessert. Organic and certified vegan, they have their priorities straight about what this creamy concoction should be, unlike some manufacturers who think it’s okay to use milk-based cultures.

WholeSoy’s myriad flavor choices have been proudly displayed even in my most rinky-dink local grocery store for years now, but something new is coming to shake things up a bit… Key lime and unsweetened plain options. I could hardly believe my luck when they offered to send me a sneak peek of each!

Thrilled to add a new taste to my lunch routine, I went straight for the container of key lime yogurt first. Happy to discover a mellow, warm shade of yellow beneath the lid and not artificial, florescent green, things certainly looked promising. Accustomed to highly sugared, pudding-like renditions, I was surprised at first to be met with such a tart, acidic flavor. Intense but in a good, “wake you up” sort of way, the lime flavor was very much present, bright and punchy, but still well balanced by just the right level of sweetness. The thick, rich mouth feel was almost like custard, and mercifully never approached the line of gummy or slimy. Once available nationwide, I know this flavor will be making more appearances in my meals!

Unexciting as it may sound, the unsweetened plain soygurt was actually the one I was most anxious to get my hands on. Surprisingly few options for such a simple variety exist, and this blank canvas can open the door to all sorts of cooking and baking applications, from sweet to savory and all things in between. Without the vaguest hint of sweetness and a very tangy finish, it has almost a cheesy flavor. Thoroughly drained and pressed, I can easily see it becoming a delicious farmer’s cheese type of spread! I couldn’t wait long enough to find out, but after two days sitting in cheesecloth, it did thicken up nicely to create…

Frozen yogurt. Blood orange frozen yogurt, to be precise. I must have caught the ice cream bug again because all of a sudden, I just can’t stop churning! The snow may be falling heavily, but I still can’t control those rabid cravings. With a few more gorgeous blood oranges languishing in the fridge, I felt compelled to do something special with them, and this easily fit the bill. Bold and tangy, the citrus sings a pitch-perfect harmony with the yogurt base. Crunchy shards of caramelized peel add in bursts of intense orange flavor, accompanied by deep, burnt sugar notes to round it all out. This recipe takes a bit more patience than your standard frozen dessert, but it is absolutely worth the wait.

Blood Orange Frozen Yogurt

1 24-Ounce Container Unsweetened Plain Soy Yogurt

2 Blood Oranges
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Water

3/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
2 Tablespoons Grand Marnier, Limoncello, or Vodka
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla

First things first, line a strainer with two layers of cheesecloth, place over a large bowl to catch the drips, and pour all of the soy yogurt in. Cover the top with another sheet of cheesecloth, and place the plastic yogurt container lid on top of that. Use a can of beans or tomatoes (anything you’ve got) as a weight by putting it squarely on top of the plastic lid. The lid is there to disperse the weight a bit, and prevent yogurt from squeezing out around the sides of the can. Let sit in a cool place (but not the fridge) for approximately 48 hours, until 1/2 cup of “whey” has drained out.

Meanwhile, take your oranges and remove the peel in long, thin strips. Cut away as much pith as possible, and reserve the oranges’ flesh for later. Place the peels in a small sauce pan and add water to cover. Bring it to a boil, turn off the heat, and thoroughly drain away the liquid. Cover again with fresh water, and repeat this process for a total of 3 times. This will help to remove excess bitterness.

Next, add in the the sugar and 1/2 cup of water, turn on the heat to medium, and bring it to a boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat slightly so that it’s stays at a gentle but energetic simmer. Swirl the pan every few minutes, until the sugar begins to take on a golden amber color. At the point that the mixture is fully golden brown and caramelized, quickly pour everything out on a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and do you best to separate the peels. Let cool completely before breaking into small shards. Save them in an air-tight container to prevent the sugar from melting or softening.

With both of the most difficult elements ready to go, transfer the drained yogurt into your blender or food processor, along with the agave, alcohol of choice, and vanilla. Trim away any remaining white pith from the reserved orange flesh, remove pips if you spot any, and toss the whole oranges in as well. Blend thoroughly, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, until completely combined and perfectly smooth. Be patient, and don’t worry if the mixture becomes rather warm in the process.

Chill thoroughly for at least 2 hours before churning in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. As you transfer the soft, fresh frozen yogurt into an air-tight container, fold in your caramelized orange peel shards. Stash the containers in your freezer for at least 4 hours before scooping and serving. The peels will eventually soften over time, so this is best served within a week, though it can certainly be stored longer.

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