BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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A Quiet Comfort

The overstuffed bus limps along, laboring through rush hour congestion, pausing to catch its breath at almost every street corner. It groans and wheezes as passengers filter out, the crowds gradually thinning as the street numbers increase, moving farther away from the bustle of downtown. Finally, finally, after an hour of holding my breath to squeeze in between the seasoned commuters, I finally stumble down the short staircase and roll out down the steep hill ahead. Darkness hasn’t yet settled in, but it looms ever closer, tugging insistently at the edges of overcast sky. Despite the howling wind, the pair of keys rattling in loose grasp is the only sound I can hear, so focused on getting in the door, getting back “home,” and just being able to unwind.

These are only my first days of school, on campus again for the first time in over five years, and they’ve already taken a lot of out me. In such moments of utter exhaustion, creative cooking is the last thing on my mind, but a girl’s still gotta eat. Working to extract the maximum amount of flavor out of a minimum of ingredients and time, a new sort of “comfort food” emerges, and this seemingly bare carrot soup is one shining example. If you have carrots, you can have soup. Thanks to my friends over at So Delicious, I had the opportunity to try out their new aseptic Culinary Coconut Milk, which is every bit as handy and shelf-stable as the canned variety, but a more environmentally friendly package.

The results are nothing mind-blowing or particularly innovative, but a quiet sort of comfort food that just seems to fit the occasion. Sometimes that’s all we need, right?

Spicy Carrot Soup
Adapted from Bon Apetit

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Pound Carrots, Peeled and Chopped
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Chopped
2 Cups Water
11-Ounce Aseptic Carton or 14-Ounce Can Full Fat Coconut Milk
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, To Taste
1 – 2 Tablespoons Sriracha
Fresh Parsley, for Garnish (Optional)

Heat the oil in a medium pot over moderate heat. Add carrots and onion and saute until the onions are lightly browned and aromatic. Pour in the water and coconut milk, bringing the mixture to a boil before reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are fork-tender; about 25 – 30 minutes.

Use an immersion blender or traditional standing blender to thoroughly puree the soup until entirely smooth. Season with salt, pepper, and sriracha to taste, thinning with additional water if necessary.

To serve, top bowlfuls with a final drizzle of sriracha for an extra kick of spice, plus fresh parsley leaves if desired.

The soup can be made up to a week in advance when stored in an airtight container.

Makes About 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Fresh From the Freezer

Little additions add up to big flavors in any successful dish, as it’s the subtle nuances that set apart a great meal from an adequate one. Sometimes that can mean just a few extra minutes at the stove, toasting garlic to the perfect shade of golden brown, or simply adding in an extra dose of ginger, heightening those bright, spicy notes right at the end of each bite. The same principle is true for simply getting food on the table in the first place; every helping hand counts, and reliable schemes for easing that process are not to be overlooked. I’ll swallow my pride and admit that sometimes, utterly drained from a day in the office, weariness penetrating straight through to my bones, I’ll reach for the old bottle of dusty, dried out garlic powder as my one and only seasoning, omitting dozens of ingredients out of sheer laziness- Not to mention a poorly stocked fridge, nary a fresh leaf of greenery to be found. Needless to say, these are not exactly meals to be proud of, let alone serve to anyone else with any taste buds.

Dorot has been my savior lately, providing the perfect culinary shortcut that doesn’t cut corners on quality. Offering myriad raw ingredients minced, frozen, and formatted into neat little cubes, it’s effortless to cook full-flavored delights, even when there’s no time to shop for fresh herbs or spices. Beyond the convenience factor, which does admittedly weigh heavily in mind as I snatch up a stockpile of crushed garlic and ginger, it’s especially handy for these cold winter months when nary a sprig of basil can be found. I relish eating seasonal, embracing the new flavors as they ripen and develop each month, but I still crave the herbaceous bite of pesto all year long. The frozen basil cubes have been the antidote to my autumnal gloom, adding the distinctive aroma of a summer’s garden to previously drab, dull meals. Even before the company offered me samples for a more in-depth review, I was already filling my freezer with these edible green gems in preparation for colder (and busier) days.

So with all of this aromatic ammo, locked and loaded in the chill chest, what does one do to bring out their full potential? Make a highly flavorful yet delicate curry, bursting with bold notes of that luscious basil of course, but assembled with finesse so that you taste far more than just heat. Easily falling on the mild side of the spectrum, my Green Garden Curry is all about soothing, warming, and invigorating tastes, and not so much the sheer spice level itself. The beauty of using Dorot’s ingenious frozen herbs and spices is that they turn this recipe into a truly season-less dish, equally delicious and accessible 365 days of the year. Though I had spring on my mind while composing the original, feel free to swap out vegetables to suit your own seasonal cravings. Green beans would be an excellent replacement for snow peas, and shelled edamame or lima beans could be gracefully slipped into the spot previously occupied by fava beans. As long as you have frozen herbs in your arsenal, there’s nothing stopping you from enjoying an equally savory, satisfying meal in no time at all.

Green Garden Curry

1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
3 Medium Shallots, Diced
4 Cubes Frozen Minced Garlic*
3 Cubes Frozen Minced Ginger**
1 Medium-Sized Fresh Jalapeno, Finely Minced
1 1/2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
3 2-Inch Long Stalks Dried Lemongrass or 1 Stalk Fresh, Bashed and Bruised
1 1/2 Teaspoons Cumin Seeds
1 Teaspoon Brown Mustard Seeds
1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Fenugreek
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Cup Snow Peas
1/2 Cup Frozen Green Peas
1 Cup Shelled and Peeled Fava Beans, Fresh or Frozen
4 Cubes Frozen Chopped Basil**
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to taste

Brown Basmati Rice, to Serve

*1 cube is equal to 1 whole clove.
**1 cube is equal to 1 teaspoon.

Set a large saucepan over moderate heat and add the coconut oil in first, allowing it to fully melt. Once liquified, introduce the shallots, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno. Saute for 6 – 8 minutes, until the cubes have broken down and the entire mixture is highly aromatic, as the shallots begin to take on a golden-brown hue. Deglaze with the lime juice, scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure that nothing sticks and all of the brown bits are incorporated. Next, introduce your whole but bruised lemongrass along with the remaining spices. Stir periodically, cooking for 5 – 6 minutes until it smells irresistible.

Pour in the coconut milk, turn down the heat to medium-low, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the snow peas, green peas, and fava beans next, stirring to combine, and let stew gently for 10 – 15 minutes, until the snow peas are bright green and the fava beans are tender. Pop in the basil cubes last, cooking just until they’ve completely dissolved and melded seamlessly into the curry before removing the pot from the heat.

Season with salt and pepper according to taste, and serve immediately over brown rice.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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A Whole Latte Love

It was a risky move, alright. Introducing a new vegan creamer on top of your existing vegan creamer doesn’t strike me as the most sound business plan, but So Delicious boldly dropped their new “Barista-Style” coffee whitener a few months ago, undeterred. Reportedly better for steaming and frothing to create more authentic lattes, I had to admit, I was curious. Given the opportunity to check them out for myself, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Now, I’m no barista. I bought myself a charming refurbished espresso machine about 10 years ago with ambitions of learning its steamy ways. Shamefully, it hasn’t seen the light of day since. This job calls for professional purveyors of caffeine. Marching down to Port Coffeehouse with creamer in hand, this would be the ultimate test. Clearly, they must get their fair share of crazy customers, because Jerry kindly tolerated my crazy request, even allowing multiple lattes to get that perfect picture:

It was a thing of beauty, topped with a classic fern design etched into the thick crema. One sip and I was hooked- An avowed black coffee drinker all my life, I finally understood the hype behind the latte. Far from being just a fluffy dessert-like drink, this cuppa was rich, comforting, and strangely satisfying. The Original Barista-Style Creamer is completely unsweetened, which suited my tastes perfectly. Not a hint of coconut flavor made it into the mug, so there was nothing to distract from the deep, roasted flavor of the beans. For those with a sugar craving, the Vanilla Barista-Style Creamer does bear a balanced hint of sweetness, along with a subtle vanilla essence. An excellent addition to specialty coffee drinks, or just the morning cup of Joe, I can understand why So Delicious took the unconventional route of adding a second dairy-free creamer to their lineup.

Lucky for you, I happen to have two freebie coupons for any So Delicious product, and I would love to spread the coconut love around. If you’re interested in trying their new creamers, tell me about what kind of drink (or anything else, if you’re feeling creative) you would make with it, and if you’re planning on snapping up something else (Ice cream? Yogurt?) tell me about it! Be sure to leave a comment with you name and a valid email address in the appropriate boxes before May 20th at midnight EST. I’ll update this post and email the winners shortly thereafter.

UPDATE: That’s all folks! The entry period is over and the random number generator has spoken.

Our winner today is commenter number 50: Amy Tong! Congratulations Amy, you’ll be hearing from me shortly. To everyone else, keep your eyes peeled for more opportunities to snag a freebie or two, since there are more giveaways to come…


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Blog, Interrupted

Breaking such a long stretch of radio silence and launching right back into the regular routine is proving far more difficult than first imagined. Even with an abundant backlog and ample time carved out for writing, the words still won’t manifest into satisfying sentences. A little over one week without blogging is all it takes to shatter the easy flow of ideas and photos, it would seem. While I’m still struggling to get back on my feet, the pile of material only grows, pushing against the impulse to curl up in bed and shun all critical thought. That’s a good thing.

One time-sensitive piece that is begging to be shared, asap, is the launch of So Delicious‘ brand new Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk Beverage. Originally I had wanted to nominate this beverage as the unofficial nog of Halloween, but since our town’s spooky celebration was canceled for yet another year, it’s just as well that this is a drink suitable for any festive events. Powerfully rich and thick enough to coat the palate with one sip, this is not a drink to mess around with. Sweet as a dessert in itself, a straight shot of this autumnal treat reminds me of melted ice cream. Truth be told, it’s so sugary and viscous that I’m not sure I would recommend sipping it plain. Rather, it’s the kind of ingredient begging to be cut with a shot of espresso, or spiked with a splash of rum.

Lightly seasoned with warm spices, cinnamon leads the pack of usual suspects, ginger and nutmeg. My biggest disappointment is that despite listing pumpkin as an ingredient, the squash flavor is entirely absent. Perhaps an added pinch of salt would help awaken those more savory notes, but at least an effort was made to go beyond the typical artificially flavored route.

To make the Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk really shine, it simply must be used in baking or cooking. Imagine using it to soak French toast, instantly creating a custard without any further prep necessary. Or consider tapioca pudding with a spicy, autumnal twist. What about caramels, where any cream or coconut milk could easily be swapped out for this treat instead? Though it may not succeed as a drink by itself, it certainly has enough culinary potential to warrant a place in your fridge.


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Still Coconuts for So Delicious

Summer may be winding down, as evidenced by countless back-to-school sales if nothing else, but ice cream season never ends. Even when I’m not churning my own, there’s always a backup “emergency” pint or two in the freezer, standing by for any unexpected guests… Or cravings. So Delicious frequently occupies that frost-covered spot, hidden behind stiff bags of frozen peas and berries to protect such bounty from hungry scavengers. No matter how many times a new pint is purchased, another one is sure to follow, quick to replace that sweet stash with something different. Each time that switch must be made, the longest part of the shopping trip is inevitably spent poring over the different options. It seems as though So Delicious keeps tucking new flavors into those sub-zero cases on every repeat visit, and choosing between the enticing combinations can be trickier than finding a fast-moving checkout line. When they offered to make the tough decisions for me and send a bundle of new offerings, it was a done deal before I could finish hammering out an ecstatic response on my keyboard.

Cashing in on the universally known fact that everything tastes better on a stick, releasing their latest Coconut Milk No Sugar Added Fudge Bars was sheer brilliance. Perfect little individual portions that satisfy that need for a tiny indulgence at the end of the day, these treats seem like they were made with me in mind. Sweetened with stevia and packing a jaw-dropping 8 grams of fiber into each miniature pop, forget about needing to rationalize that extra serving of dessert- These feel downright virtuous. Luckily, they don’t taste it. Strong initial coconut flavor gives way to a gentle, delicate taste of cocoa. Not the deep, rounded flavor of decadent chocolate that we all know So Delicious is capable of, but that’s the price to be paid for such lightness. It’s a grownup version of the childhood classic, although kids would undoubtedly partake with glee if given the chance.

Coconut Milk Passionate Mango Ice Cream is a bit of a departure from the standard set of flavors you might find at the store, which is a shame, since it was a tropical delight from the first lick. Bright, clean, citrus-y mango blended perfectly with the passion fruit, allowing each one an equal role in the overall production. Not only refreshing but also invigorating, it’s the kind of flavor that could brighten up a grey day. The coconut milk base is practically invisible in this particular pint, easily fooling unsuspecting eaters who may not like the popular drupe or seek out dairy-free alternatives in the first place.

Saving what I hoped to be the best for last, Coconut Milk Cookie Dough Ice Cream had a big title to live up to. Coconut haters beware: This one is unafraid to shout its origins from the rooftops and make its presence known. Happily, for those who appreciate the coconut for all it brings to the table, that flavor melds nicely with the plentiful chunks of soft cookie batter strewn throughout. Brown sugar is the main flavor of the dough, accented by a decent touch of salt, which is pretty accurate for most cookie doughs I’ve tasted raw baked and then eaten like a well-behaved, patient baker. Crunchy chocolate shrapnel strewn about the body of the creamy concoction adds much-needed textural contrast, and provides greater depth than the vanilla base alone could muster. Each bite is different and exciting, which makes it the most addictive pint to dig into.

Ice cream is best when shared, no matter how delicious it is alone, so I’m thrilled to make the experience sweeter by offering coupons for a free pint to two lucky readers. If that sounds like a good deal to you too, leave a comment about which flavor you’d buy should you win. The coupons are only valid in the US, so only residents or current visitors are able to enter this one, and please leave only one comment per person. You have until Friday, August 24th at midnight EST to add your comment to the pool, and winners will be contacted shortly thereafter.

Get your scoops primed and ready, because colder weather doesn’t mean a break in the ice cream action here!

UPDATE: The contest is now closed, and the two winners are…

Allie and Gabby! Congrats ladies, you’ll be hearing from me soon and enjoying your very own pint of coconut ice cream before you know it!


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Feeling Saucy

Sauces are the unsung heroes of every meal. Quietly, selflessly, they accept their role as the supporting actors, and yet they’re often the most flavorful element in the whole production. The same old boring dishes can be reinvented with just a few small tweaks to the sauce, no further modifications necessary. Take, for instance, stuffed shells.

Plate provided by Steelite

A fool-proof formula of pasta, “cheese,” and tomato, the staples upon which Italian food is built. However, if I were to tell you that the pool of red sauce seen above was not a mere marinara, but one infused with lemongrass, ginger, and a bird’s eye chili, among other exotics, wouldn’t it up the ante for the average meal that much more? Proof positive that the magic is all in the sauce, the ordinary meal became something truly memorable with a small deviation from the norm. Creamy coconut milk helps to tame the burn of hot peppers, making a velvety but delightfully chunky red sauce that’s mellow enough for even those with more timid palates to enjoy. Rather than following the usual path for dinner, give the sauce some much-deserved attention next time, and see where it can take your meal.

Thai Spiced Marinara

2 Tablespoons Olive or Coconut Oil
1/2 Large Red Onion, Chopped (1 1/2 – 2 Cups)
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3/4 – 1 Inch Ginger, Minced (About 1 Heaping Tablespoon)
2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Lemongrass
1 Bird’s Eye Chili
2 Kaffir Lime Leaves, or 1 Strip of Lime Peel
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
1 1/2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 12-Ounce Jar Roasted Red Peppers, Rinsed and Drained (or 2 Roasted Peppers)
1 – 2 Tablespoons Red Curry Powder or Paste
1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce

Begin by heating the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add in the chopped onion, garlic, and ginger, and saute until the onion is translucent and the whole mixture is very aromatic. Allow the onion to take on a bit of brown color around the edges; about 10 – 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, gather together the lemongrass, chili, and kaffir lime leaves or lime zest, and bundle them together in a tea bag or reusable tea ball. I find that this makes it easier to remove these items once they’ve imparted all of their flavor into the sauce, rather than fishing around with a strainer and hoping you got all of the fibrous bits. Set aside for the time being.

Once the aromatics are beginning to brown, stir in the diced tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure that all of the flavorful caramelized bits get incorporated as well. Pour in the vegetable stock, and toss in the sealed tea bag or ball (if using a tea ball, clip it to the side of the pot for easier retrieval.)

Toss the roasted red peppers, coconut milk, curry powder or paste, and tamari into a blender, and thoroughly puree. Once perfectly smooth, pour the mixture into the stock pot as well. Bring everything up to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low so that the sauce simmers gently, uncovered. It may seem a bit watery now, but give it time; 60 – 90 minutes should thicken it up nicely.

Remove the tea bag or ball, and discard the contents. Serve the marinara hot, or let cool and store in an airtight container for up to 10 days.

Makes About 5 – 6 Cups Sauce

Printable Recipe


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Alone in the Kitchen

Eating alone is one thing- The act of scarfing down a sloppy assemblage of discordant ingredients while on the run, a quiet moment stolen away from a hectic schedule, shared only with a soothing bowl of soup and sandwich- Just a small, acceptable aspect of the modern world we must make peace with. Whether these meals are a respite or a terribly lonely hour are all in the eye of the beholder, or should I say, mouth of the eater. Cooking alone, in my opinion is an entirely different subject though. When you make the conscious effort to cook something from scratch, taking into consideration exactly what you want to feed yourself with, it’s a far more meditative, nourishing experience than merely grabbing a solo bite between meetings.

It looks different for everyone, but eating alone for me means a bowl of cereal for dinner or reheated leftovers. Cooking alone, at least in the winter, means rich curries packed full of vegetables, hearty soups enriched with miso and nutritional yeast (vegan catnip, from my point of view), or red sauce, enriched with thick, creamy coconut milk and vodka.

A perfectly balanced dinner, it is not, but sometimes it’s the less healthy option that’s better for your soul. Rather than mope over previously picked over scraps, while away the night time hours by myself, I poured myself into making a simple vodka sauce, tending the pot while listening to music and allowing the savory scent of stewed tomatoes fill the entire house. Smooth, with a few chunks of diced tomatoes for a more satisfying texture, vodka sauce is a favorite that isn’t indulged in very often around here. More than anything else, this recipe is an effort in self-editing. Resist the urge to throw in garlic (Yes, must fight the temptation, at least the first time you try it!), keep the fancy herbs at bay, and stick to the basics. Time is the best seasoning in this case, so approach this sauce with plenty of patience in stock. Top it all off with a fine chiffonade of fresh basil if you absolutely must, but that’s it!

Pasta, that simple, starchy comfort food, naturally makes the best sort of base. Go for something tube-shaped to catch and hold on to all that creamy crimson goodness, and if you must pretend like you’re eating healthily, go ahead and toss in some chickpeas or baked tofu for protein.

With the scent of my carefully tended vodka sauce wrapping around me like a thick, soft blanket on a cold night, just like that, I didn’t feel so alone when it came time to eat.

Coconut Vodka Sauce

1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Large Onion, Finely Minced
1 Cup Vodka
2 28-Ounce Cans Diced Tomatoes
1 14-Ounce Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute the onion in the melted coconut oil until softened and just beginning to take on a brown color. De-glaze with the vodka, stir well, and let cook for 10 minutes. Mix in canned tomatoes, juice and all, and bring the mixture up to a rapid bubble. Reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the sauce at a steady, low simmer, and cook for another 30 minutes. Pour in coconut milk and cook for a final 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, but be generous with both. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender and puree, or hit it with the immersion blender until it reaches your desired consistency. Be sure to leave it slightly chunky.

Serve while hot, or store in an air-tight container in the fridge after cooling, for up to a week.

Makes About 2 Quarts

Printable Recipe


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Blissfully Delicious

For such a highly-regarded and lauded brand, you’d think it would be a snap to launch new flavors to an existing, successful line of products, to have them gobbled up by an eagerly waiting and hungry fan base. Well, at least half of that statement is true… Coconut Bliss ice creams have always been an easy sell, boasting organic, fair trade, and generally wholesome ingredients, but finding those frozen pints can be another matter entirely. Just as four exciting new flavors were scheduled to launch, disaster struck, and a coconut shortage meant that there wasn’t much Bliss to go around. After waiting for nearly a year and only being able to secure one of those new offerings, I decided to focus on the existing, available flavors instead of only those latest additions. Surely, there was still plenty of delicious ice cream to discover beyond those freshest flavors! Especially considering my latest cookbook venture, it seemed only fair that I get a good taste of the commercially available competition, after all.

Caramel Ginger Cookie, the one new ice cream offering I managed to get my hands on, promises great things even with a merely casual glance. An abundance of cookie pieces are swirled into each easily scooped spoonful, with a thin ribbon of caramel not far behind. Though the base is unmistakably coconut flavored, the addition was not unwelcome here, adding depth and complexity to the light vanilla essence. Rather than providing a crunch, the cookie pieces had softened to an almost cake-like consistency through their trip to the deep freeze, but the rich molasses flavor and gentle warming spices still brought a delightful contrast to the ice cream overall. If only that gooey stripe of caramel was slightly darker, tasting just slightly more burnt, it would be practically perfect.

Failing to find the Mocha Maca Crunch I so desperately craved, I turned instead to another favorite combination, found in the Mint Chip Galactica. Tiny shards of delicate chocolate flakes are strewn throughout the snowy white pint, looking for all the world like a negative photo of a galaxy of chocolate stars, instantly explaining the creative title. Cool, refreshing mint flavor carries this ice cream, tasting like fresh mint leaves without veering into more grassy notes or toothpaste territory. Bright and curiously light considering the rich coconut base, it strikes me as the perfect snack to beat the heat on a summer’s day. The chocolate stracciatella is key to the success of this ice cream, lending a subtle bitter edge that makes the combination all the more satisfying. Sweetened just enough to balance out the pint, it’s like my childhood mint chocolate chip, but all grown up.

Finally, I needed a full-fledged chocolate experience, so I dove into the Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge ice cream with abandon. Sweetened once again with a light hand, this is a strong, slightly bitter chocolate offering for mature palates. Not exactly a full-bodied, rounded chocolate flavor but a really intense cocoa instead, it still covers up the coconut flavor more thoroughly than the previous two pints, making it a more attractive option to those not so crazy about coconuts. Small pieces of hazelnut are hidden within, adding good crunch but seeming to lack in that deep, toasted flavor I craved. However, hands down, the fudge swirl makes this flavor worth a second scoop, adding a delightful gooey texture, and an extra punch of flavor every now and then. Perhaps it’s not one for the kids, but who says you would want to part with even a spoonful in the first place?

Far richer than most vegan ice creams found in the mainstream marketplace, tasting Coconut Bliss for the first time is like discovering super-premium ice cream when you’re accustomed to bulk economy quarts. Though notably pricier than many other options out there, a smaller scoop is likely sufficient to satisfy even the most voracious sweet tooth, so it all evens out with careful portioning. That is, if you can resist the strong temptation to indulge in just a bit more Bliss.


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Nog-Off!

Eggnog: Beaten eggs and cream whisked together into a frothy amalgamation of dairy, sweetened with a heavy hand, spiked with nearly equal parts hard liquor and perhaps brightened with a pinch of nutmeg. Now doesn’t that just sound delicious? Like some bizarre protein shake for alcoholics, it sounds like a beverage created to cause as much pain as the intoxicating additions might be intended to ease. The butt of many jokes and great animosity from detractors, it’s hard to imagine how it was first created, and furthermore, deemed edible. Having felt no compulsion to imbibe for the first 20 years of my life, I will say upfront right now, I have never had “real” eggnog. However, it took going vegan for me to try it at all, and that’s what started the love affair.

Subtract all those nasty bits, remove the alcohol, and you have a whole different beverage, quite literally. Without the fangs, it’s really a sweet, cuddly creature that’s easy to enjoy and hard to feel guilty about. Zero cholesterol and lower calorie counts are a factor luring many non-vegans to the eggless nog party, too. However what counts more than the numbers is the taste, if you ask me. This year, we have more options than ever to fulfill our noggy needs, and after years of plotting a grand show-down, I’m proud to announce the first ever unofficial Vegan Nog-Off! A head-to-head battle between the non-dairy nogs on the market, fighting to the death until the strongest nog is revealed. Okay, nothing quite so dramatic, but just image how exciting that could be!

To understand this sudden 180 degree turn from disgust to adoration, we must first go back in time a bit. Back to the days when Vitasoy still distributed soy milk in the US, and produced the most irresistible seasonal beverage of all, Holly Nog (scroll down to see nog info). I was hooked, no turning back, and couldn’t slurp that sweet nectar down fast enough. My stock pile would hit at least a dozen cartons by the end of December, but would hardly survive January. When Vitasoy pulled back from the US market, I was devastated, but simultaneously inspired to find an equally satisfying replacement. Thus began my eggless nog journey to find the best alternate option.

[If you live in Canada though, you're in luck- Holly Nog is still available in your neck of the woods! The nog pictured above was smuggled over the border thanks to the lovely, generous, and incredibly thoughtful Marika; I couldn't have dreamed of a sweeter holiday gift!]

For American folk like myself, we currently have a grand total of four vegan nog options for this year of 2011; two soy, one coconut, and one rice. The question is, which one is best? The completely unscientific breakdown is as follows, starting with my least favorite and ending with the top nog.

Rice Nog by Rice Dream. This nog is no newcomer to the marketplace, so unfortunately, I already knew I hated it. However, it seems I had forgotten just how much I hated it. Pouring weakly from the carton as a pale shade of pepto-bismal-pink, it’s readily apparent that the consistency is the thinnest of the bunch. Slightly dusty at first taste, with a nice touch of grit at the bottom and an undeniable cereal flavor, this is an option only to reinforce negative nog stereotypes. Avoid at all costs.

Soy Nog by Earth Balance. Upon first whiff, I could have sworn I detected a hint of lemon drink mix powder. Confused but undeterred, I came to enjoy the smooth texture, ranking just a hair thicker than standard soy milk. Appropriately sweet but without much of a spice flavor anywhere to be found, it was quite alright… Until I stopped drinking. At first, I wrote it off as being a bad batch, but 3 cartons later (yes, I am a glutton for punishment, or perhaps, just a glutton), the strange aftertaste of dirt remained. Very subtle, easy to overlook when spiked with some potent spirits, but something I found a bit off-putting.

Silk Nog by Silk. A classic that’s been around the block and back, this staple still endures and ranks highly among the dairy-free and eggless crowds. Sweet enough to be considered dessert, it’s a mild but highly drinkable treat. Thick enough to coat the palate briefly but resist a cloying stickiness, it’s something you don’t need to hide behind other drinks on the holiday party buffet table. I personally wish it had a better punch of spice, but such a complaint can easily be corrected with just a pinch of nutmeg upon serving. Not a bad option at all, with the bonus of being the most widely distributed and easily attainable vegan nog in the US.

Coconut Nog by So Delicious. The winner of the round. It may not be for everyone though, due to the subtle but easily recognizable hint of coconut flavor that hits you initially. That impression does fade as you continue to imbibe, and by then, you’ll find yourself hooked by the sweet, custard-like flavor. Thick like a melted milkshake, this nog has a certain richness that the others lack, bringing it closer to the original decadent inspiration. Granted, it does have a more tropical, almost banana-like flavor, which may horrify true nog drinkers, but for this vegan who’s never had the original, it simply tastes like the holiday spirit, if it were condensed into a drinkable format.

Making your own eggless nog is generally recommended over any store-bought options, due to the ability to adapt and adjust flavors to your own tastes, but we finally have a few strong offerings for the lazy, rushed, or merely curious vegans among us. Congratulations, So Delicious- It really is the year of the coconut!


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It’s All Greek to Me

Nipping at the heels of the latest food trends yet again, Turtle Mountain has managed to combine two powerful buzzwords in one fell swoop: “Coconut” and “Greek yogurt.” As if their plain coconut yogurt, a boon to the dairy-avoidant and soy-intolerant all at once, wasn’t enough, this latest creation manages to up the ante further. So new that I have yet to spot it on grocery store shelves, I was lucky enough to get advanced warning for this latest coconut invention and a box of three unmarked and label-less white containers in the mail. Slated to include 6 flavors in all for this line, I’m still dying to get a taste of the chocolate, strawberry, and plain varieties not included in my small sample package.

What’s most important here, however, is the texture. Without that critical viscosity, there’s little separating this latest offering from their pre-existing line of standard coconut yogurt. Achieving entirely different results from such a small change in the formula could be difficult to believe, but the promises do hold up to scrutiny- Across the board, these Greek yogurts are quite thick, somewhere along the lines of a sour cream consistency. Completely smooth even without stirring, no lumps or chunks to speak of, the richness that each spoonful brings is incredible, especially considering the substantial nutritional content. Insane amounts of fiber mean that one container plus perhaps a side of veggies or a piece of fruit makes for an entirely satisfying meal, which still feels slightly decadent.

Pale purplish-pink in color, the Raspberry Greek yogurt carries not only the seeds of its namesake, but even the tiny raspberry hairs (ie, remnants of the pistals; the female portion of the flower) as well. Much more tangy than sweet, it’s balanced by just enough cane syrup to resist bitterness, but may not be for those expecting a dessert or pudding-like experience. All the better, if you ask me! I for one don’t want to eat candy for lunch, and this option actually offers a complexity of flavors beyond pure sugary sweetness. However, fair-weather coconut friends beware: this yogurt doesn’t attempt to hide its roots, and definitely has a bit of tropical twang.

Blueberry fell a bit short for me, considering my high expectations. Very tangy but low on actual blueberry taste, it seemed to have more color than flavor. Chunks of fruit would have helped, but alas, all that can be found throughout this plastic tub are merely a few scattered seeds, merely proof that perhaps there were once berries involved. Sure, it’s fine, certainly not bad, but boring at best.

Ending on a high note, the Vanilla was the expected redemption to the whole tasting experience. A creamy off-white that reminded me of mayonnaise, I didn’t have very high hopes. Surprisingly, it carried only a slight aftertaste of coconut, and allowed the vanilla flavor space to breathe and be tasted, with a very modest amount of sweetness as well. Not terribly tangy, but mellow and agreeable, it works beautifully as a pairing to countless other treats. Dressed up in a fruit and granola parfait, I had an impressive yet simple and healthy treat in a matter of seconds. Such versatility is really the winning aspect of the Greek yogurt angle, since it’s thickness can stand up to more demanding applications than the typically runny plain yogurt.

Though there wasn’t enough of any flavor to spare for recipe experiments, rest assured that those won’t be far behind… Especially when I can get my hands on some plain Greek yogurt, there are endless possibilities for both sweet and savory baking!

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