BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Lost at Sea

Nothing is off limits when it comes to capturing the perfect photo. Fulfilling a vision, watching it come to life, and being able to share it with others, no translation necessary, is the most satisfying aspect of the craft. No one said that reaching that goal was ever easy though, which is why I’m willing to go great lengths in order to see a concept through to completion. Even for your garden-variety food photo, every frame counts. Shooting on location presents its own unique set of challenges, but posing a pie for its closeup on the beach is far from my craziest idea yet.

A week of planning, a day of preparation, and day of meticulous baking later, the photo was everything I had dreamed of. With the recipe completed and fine tuned well in advance, the styling went off without a hitch. My Island Breeze Pie from Easy as Vegan Pie looked radiant, a true beach babe if I ever did see one. Never mind the fact that it was a chilly February morning, the wee hours of the AM affording us a quiet, undisturbed spot on the shoreline; the sun’s gentle golden glow suggested otherwise, and the soft ripples of sea water coming in with the tide seemed to lovingly cradle the dish itself. It was perfect, that one moment that every artist lives for when everything in the world feels right.

And the next moment is what every risk-taker dreads.

Splash! Right before my lens, one cruel wave silently crept up from beyond my viewfinder, sneaking around the edges of my painstakingly styled pie, and maliciously scaled the walls of the ceramic vessel, crashing through the latticework in one fell swoop. I never saw it coming, but with camera poised and a finger on the trigger, the devastating attack was inadvertently captured for all eyes to see, detailing the full destruction in a multitude of frames.

“No, not the macadamia nuts!” I howled in anguish, helplessly watching the waters recede. They were one of the rare edible souvenirs that made the journey with me back from Hawaii, you see, much more sentimental than your average ingredient.

Leaving behind a soggy but fully intact pastry in its wake, my rescue efforts came too late, but the whole dish was nonetheless toweled off and taken home. This poor, brave pie made the ultimate sacrifice- Who could be so cold-hearted as to simply shrug and throw it away? Not I; loathe to waste food, and turn my back on this valiant fighter.

Only out of desperation, and only due to one overly optimistic suggestion did the pie return to the oven in an attempt to dry out. The water was removed, but the sand, grit, and salt remained, tasting of of detritus and sadness. Officially beyond salvage, all I could do was honor its memory, publishing that glorious photo to inspire generations of Island Breeze Pies to come.

Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Easy as Vegan Pie for yourself! Pretty please, don’t let any of your baked creations anywhere near the water, for your own eating enjoyment.


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Freedom Cookie Press

Hands down, the best part about being a freelance photographer is when exciting new projects practically fall into my lap, and my greatest struggle is figuring out how to say “YES!” without sounding like an overeager puppy. A rare occurrence indeed, that intermittent system of rewards has me hooked, reinforced by the random, incredible opportunities that happen to come my way. After recently being recruited by Carina Comer to shoot the cover of her premier cookbook, Freedom Cookie Press, that addiction has only grown stronger.

Though the work of creating the cookies and capturing their best sides was deeply satisfying, having such delicious treats to enjoy at the end of the day was the greatest payoff. Featuring a cookie inspired by each of the fifty United States, baking your way through this innovative collection is like taking an edible road trip, without ever leaving the comfort of your own kitchen. Pictured here on the cover are the CT Nutmeg Doodles, TX Texmex Wedding Cookies, and OR Flowering Filbert Petit Fours, to provide some insight on the creative combinations that Carina has dreamed up. Though nostalgic and comforting in a way that only heartfelt recipes can be, these aren’t your grandma’s cookies, and you’re not likely to find such daring sweet flavors anywhere else.

I may be completely biased, but take my word for it: Freedom Cookie Press, hot of the digital presses, is truly a must-buy for anyone with a sweet tooth!


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Southern Fried with All the Fixin’s

Southern food is not a subject I can speak about with any authority, but I’d like to believe that I make up for such an absence in knowledge with enthusiasm and curiosity. Though I can count the number of times I’ve eaten the cuisine on one hand, thanks to the dearth of vegan options in general, the comforting, straightforward flavors always resonate. Given the opportunity to explore this uncharted culinary territory with the sage wisdom of The Southern Vegetarian Cookbook, it was an edible adventure I couldn’t resist. Though the pages are still packed with recipes calling for eggs, cheese, and butter, there are enough solid ideas here to provide the inspiration for vegan adaptations. Take, for example, the infamous Chicken-Fried Portobello with Mushroom and Shallot Gravy, originally appearing on the authors’ blog years ago to great acclaim. It’s no surprise; between the crisp, lightweight breaded exterior and the inherent umami depth of the mushroom, such a deceptively simple preparation can do no wrong. Similarly, that gravy could just as easy coat a used dish sponge, and I would happily wolf the whole thing down, as long as I could use a spoon to catch every last drop.

Swap out the egg for ground flaxseeds mixed with water, and the cream for any unsweetened non-dairy milk, and you’ll be in business too. Paired with sauteed, smoky beet greens and lightly charred corn, it was the perfect summer dinner, complete with a comforting southern accent.


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I Only Have Pies For You

March 14th is always a cause for celebration, a holiday that deserves more fanfare than it ever earns. For those who haven’t marked their calendars and awaited the day with enthusiasm, just take a peek at the numerical representation: 3.14. Ring any bells? Yes indeed, it’s Pi Day!

Every year, bakers and bloggers across the globe try to out do themselves, coming up with some truly brilliant representations of this most delicious mathematical value. You wouldn’t guess it based on the current state of my recipe index, but I’ve been working especially hard on my pie contribution this time around. In fact, I have not one mere pie to share, but well over one hundred. There’s just one small catch…

You’ll have to wait until Easy as Vegan Pie is released this coming October.

All you pie-lovers out there, can I get a “Hell Yeah!”? It’s been a difficult path, paved with crumbly, sticky, and otherwise uncooperative dough; runny custards and undercooked fruits; every pie-related woe possible stood in my way of the perfect slice. Now I can confidently promise a fix to all those problems, along with dozens of mouth-watering, near revolutionary fillings never before seen in a crust. Get excited everyone- This book will make every day a pi day.

As if that wasn’t enough news to make you jump up and dance around the kitchen, brace yourself because I have another reason for you to start preheating your oven in anticipation… Vegan Desserts, out of print for many months now, is to be reprinted and re-released in paperback format, come November!

It’s going to be one sweet fall season…


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Slow and Steady Wins the Meal

When Beverly Lynn Bennett let it slip well over a year ago that she had a slow cooker cookbook in the works, it may or may not have had a strong influence on my biggest birthday request. Timing also played a significant role in the decision, as I scrambled to find something, anything, to populate my sparse wishlist, but it was also too enticing a concept to resist. A gadget that independently bubbled away on the counter and produced hot, comforting dishes without any further human intervention? Moreover, a kitchen gadget that I didn’t yet have? Preposterous. With a bit of help from generous parents, that gift pushed me firmly into the world of slow cooking at last.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Slow Cooking may not look like much on the shelf, but it contains a wealth of knowledge that only an expert could bring to the home kitchen. A decorated chef and author, Beverly has been in the game for decades, boasting one of the earliest vegan recipe websites to my knowledge, providing a sturdy crutch to countless new, practiced, and simply curious cruelty-free cooks. Having had the pleasure of sampling many of her creations through past photography assignments, I had a feeling that her take on the mysterious slow cooker would be worth waiting for, and I was not wrong.

Cautiously dipping my toes in the water first, I went with one of the most common uses for the contraption first: Stew. What could be better than just tossing a whole mess of ingredients into the spacious pot, setting a timer, and going about your day? Anything that does more work for me is welcome in my kitchen, so I eagerly piled in the vegetables and proteins for the Basque Potato Soup (page 88). When dinner time rolled around a few hours later, the rich, tomato-scented air was driving me mad with hunger. Packed with hearty chunks of potato and seitan chorizo, the intense flavor flew in the face of its humble, oil-free beginnings. An underlying smoky, roasted, and gently piquant flavor lurked throughout, giving the whole stew incredible depth. Though the heat grows with each successive bite, it never reaches nuclear levels, staying quite manageable no matter your spice tolerance. For such a basic soup, this one really hits all the high notes.

With one staple passing the slow cooker test with flying colors, it was time to move on into more adventurous fare. Beverly fills the pages of her book with plenty of tried-and-true preparations, ranging from chili to hot fudge sauce, but where this book really shines is in the more inventive uses for the contraption in question. Take, for example, quiche. Yes, a whole quiche cooked right in the slow cooker! Crustless Vegetable-Tofu Quiche (page 44) had my name written all over it: Mushrooms, zucchini, red onion, and of course tofu, all wrapped up in a savory brunch-worthy package. After painstakingly waiting for the quiche to cool before slicing, the texture was positively luxurious. Like a silky custard throughout, it was as creamy as a cohesive tofu dish can be. Unfortunately, the taste didn’t quite measure up to that strong start. Best described by my mom as a “mild vegetal flavor,” it was unfortunately rather bland, with a faint salty bitterness at the back of the palate. Bumping up the seasonings or swapping them out for a new set entirely would easily elevate this dish into a clear winner.

Finally, I went for a real grand finale, and pulled out one dish that had everyone exclaiming, “You made that in a slow cooker?!” Yes indeed, that Sweet Potato Streusel Coffeecake (page 250) pictured above never saw the heat of an oven, spending a solid three hours getting acquainted with my slow cooker instead. At first, it seemed like an inevitable failure. Though the recipe fails to say when the margarine should be added, I slipped it in while mashing the potatoes, still warm and readily drinking in the added fat. It was only after “baking” that I became concerned though, testing for doneness at least a dozen times over. Still, the center toed the line between a super-moist sad streak and dough wad of moist raw flour. Luckily, after serving it to a crowd, the overwhelming consensus was that rather than being a disappointment, this was in fact an asset. Perfect for anyone who loves cookie dough or slightly under-baked banana bread, it was simply a cake with a dense crumb, no disclaimers needed. A hearty wheat flavor gives this treat a more wholesome impression, but make no mistake, it’s still plenty sweet enough to pass for dessert. This is one idea that clearly needs further exploration, because guests couldn’t stop raving about that crazy concept.

Whether you’ve never touched a slow cooker before or are a seasoned pro, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Slow Cooking is sure to give you something new, and definitely delicious, to stew over.


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An Edible Mosaic

Cookbooks of every subject imaginable fill my constantly growing collection, an all-inclusive library of texts big and small. Predictably, the vast majority bear not even a passing mention to meat or dairy products, but it may come as a surprise that I don’t buy exclusively vegan cookbooks. In fact, part of the fun is finding something new that hasn’t yet been made in a vegan format, or provides new insight on why particular techniques evolved throughout the years. Particularly true of “authentic” recipes from other cultures, it really is much more effective (and delicious) to go straight to the source.

In the case of An Edible Mosaic, the source turns out to be close to my heart, if not in physical distance. Faith Gorsky, food blogger extraordinaire, talented photographer, and now accomplished cookbook author has been churning out mouth-watering dishes for years, sharing them with infectious enthusiasm. Showcasing all of her skills in one gorgeous hardcover text, it doesn’t take a cook or a foodie to appreciate the luscious photos within. Lavished with full-color images throughout, it would be a worthwhile investment if only as a coffee table book.

Happily, An Edible Mosaic is worth far more than that, as my first pick of Garlicky Potato Dip (Mutabbal Batata) (page 67) made readily apparent. Easily veganized by swapping in vegan yogurt, the whole recipe came together in a snap. Redolent of robust garlic essence, the thick potatoes make for a very rich, intense eating experience. Continuing to thicken as it cooled, and even more so after a rest in the fridge, it did seem like passing off mashed potatoes as a dip. A topping of spicy olive oil is a must for added contrast. Fresh herbs do wonders to brighten up the whole combination, although I did of course skip the cilantro in favor of parsley. While excelling in flavor, a bit more yogurt might improve the texture, helping to reinforce its place on the hors d’oeuvres tray rather than the dinner table.

Shawarma is one dish that is still hard to find without meat, and even harder to find done right. With Faith’s spicing guidelines in hand, the Spiced Shawarma Chicken Wraps (Shawarma Dajaj) (page 92) were the perfect opportunity to attempt making my own vegan version. Favoring rehydrated soy curls rather than poultry, the remaining procedure was just as simple as promised, yielding great rewards for such little effort. My only other alterations were the standard yogurt switch and baking for only 30 minutes, since the curls didn’t need to be “cooked through” the same way as meat would. Quite frankly, this was awesome. Killer spices, so much better than anything I had previously muddled together, make this dish a success no matter what you cook in them. Wraps aside, I would gladly devour those soy curls in salads, over rice, or by themselves. That marinade will go on to cover countless proteins to come, no doubt about it.

The Creamy Garlic Sauce (Toumieh) (page 24) served on the side, however, wasn’t entirely a resounding success. Granted, the Garlic Mayonnaise was recommended for serving alongside the wraps; veganizing the sauce was a more direct conversion, thus making it a better representative of the original recipe. Made for garlic lovers only, this will give you dragon’s breath of the best sort! Intense, ridiculously creamy and buttery, it is dangerously addictive. The trouble was in viscosity. Despite adding the optional [vegan] mayonnaise for thickness, the mixture just refused to bulk up, and furthermore insisted on separating after even a minute of inactivity. That sure didn’t stop me from relishing it as a salad dressing at many later meals, of course.

Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions (Mujaddara Burghul) (page 82) is the world’s most perfect meal, by my uninformed estimation. Think about it- How many other dishes can boast such well-balanced nutrition, between the hearty whole grains and tender, protein-packed lentils? Top it all off with aromatic spices and irresistible caramelized onions, and you’ve got a dinner that’s both well rounded and unconditionally delicious. Everyone loves this classic, which makes its accidentally vegan composition that much more delightful. I’ve eaten many a bowl of mujaddara in my day, and this one definitely ranks up in the top three. Flavored mostly with warm, toasty cumin and a gentle accent of cinnamon, it works beautifully for lunch or dinner, hot or cold. This dish knows no boundaries.

Spices are of course so critical to Middle Eastern cooking, and Faith manages to make all of the combinations both approachable and accessible. My one main criticism, however, is the way that the main spice mixtures are laid out in the beginning of the book. I feel as though I’m constantly running around in circles trying to complete one mixture, as many redirect to other spice recipes, not once, not twice, but in a few cases up to four times. Personally, I wish they were all just written out in entirety, even if it would seem redundant.

All told, An Edible Mosaic is a cookbook that everyone can enjoy. Meaty or milky recipes can be modified with just a little creativity, so vegans need not avert their eyes. It’s a small challenge with a huge payoff, as you will surely be able to taste for yourself.


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Aged to Perfection

Hard pucks of florescent yellow plastic; waxy, limp shreds that are more likely to burst into flame than melt in the oven; odd imports that carry a price tag equivalent to edible gold. It’s hard to believe that only a scant few years ago, this was the array of options for the pitiful vegan craving a taste of something cheesy. We’ve come a long way, baby, and we’re not done yet. Achieving mainstream acceptance of a meltable, palatable vegan alternative seemed like the climax of the story, the best that anyone eschewing dairy could ever hope for, but now Miyoko Schinner has gone and raised the bar once more.

In many ways, Artisan Vegan Cheese reads like the sequel to The Uncheese Book. Recipes are largely nut and agar based, but where it diverges drastically is in technique. Probiotics are added to the mix in the form of either vegan yogurt or rejuvelac, both of which have their own recipes for making at home for the avid cook. Cheeses are aged, just like in traditional processes with dairy milk, which allows for development of those tangy, funky flavors that simply can’t be replicated by any simple ingredient addition.

Miyoko makes it clear from the onset that this book is not about instant gratification. Though plenty of recipes included can be whipped up and eaten right away, the real crème de la crème, if you will, are the aged cheeses. Fermentation and drying times vary from three days to three weeks, depending on your diligence and patience.

While waiting for my millet-based Rejuvelac (page 6) to ferment, I dove right into the simpler recipes, enticed by the promise of Rich and Creamy Alfredo Sauce (page 62.) It wasn’t so much the idea of smothering noodles in the creamy condiment that caught my attention, but the suggestion of using it to top a pizza that Miyoko mentions in the intro. Such a brilliant idea was impossible to ignore, and so I blended up that sauce in record time, slapping it on freshly risen dough, and gilded the lily with delicate squash blossoms picked earlier that day. Nice and thick, the Alfredo sat perfectly in place from baking to eating, all while remaining creamy throughout. Although mild in flavor, the subtle touch of white wine added unexpected complexity to the mix, and allowed my additional herbs and toppings to really shine.

Now with a big batch of yeasty, sour rejuvelac on hand, I steeled myself for the real heart of the matter; the aged cheeses. Making the Smoked Provolone (page 51) was an absolute must, turning out to be my favorite pick of the litter. To give you a hint of how impressed I was, my tasting notes for this amber-orange wheel lead with “shockingly delicious, a total game-changer.” Sure, it seemed promising, but how could it differ so greatly than other cheeses I had made before? Tasting is believing my friends, because nothing else comes close. Unlike so many curd copycats before, the flavor is not of vinegar, not mustard, not nooch, but simply cheese. A firm rind had formed after air-drying on the counter for four days, while the interior remained soft yet slice-able. The smoky flavor made me think more of a gouda than a provolone, but specifics aside, even my omnivorous mom agreed that it tasted like something that a cow would produce, not a cashew.

Next up was Air-Dried Emmentaler (page 32), a cheese similar to Swiss but without the tunnel-like holes. Softer than anticipated, even after aging a full three days, only the sharpest knife in my drawer would facilitate clean cuts. Vaguely gummy, the texture was not ideal, but the tangy, distinctive flavor made up for it. Funky but still delicate enough to play nicely with any sort of pairing, sweet or savory, it’s a highly versatile option.

One of the few remaining “holy grails” of vegan food has got to be convincing dairy-free Brie (page 12)… but no more. Skeptically but optimistically adding the entire cup of refined coconut oil called for, it seemed impossible that anything edible, let alone delicious, would come of this crazy experiment. Oh, how happily wrong I was. After sitting out to warm for 30 minutes before removing a wedge, the texture won’t be runny like traditional Brie, but it does become lusciously spreadable and creamy. To me, it tasted like cream cheese with some extra funk, but I’ve never actually had Brie in the first place. Again seeking confirmation from my mom, she proclaimed it “very Brie-like, aside from the texture,” emboldening me to serve it at a strictly omnivore dinner party. Almost the entire wheel went missing well before the main meal was served.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Risotto Fritters (page 76), otherwise known as arancini, due to the surprisingly loose consistency of the rice even after cooling. A messy struggle with sticky hands ensued, but all the hassle was worthwhile when my Emmentaler-stuffed appetizers came out of the oven. Opting to simplify and bypass the hot oil, these rice balls were just as tasty bake as they would have been fried. A light tomato undertone, with frequent pops of herbaceous basil throughout offsets the creamy cheese inside. Plain old marinara would have been just fine, rather than the somewhat forgettable roasted pepper sauce, since these are flavorful enough to hold their own.

Suddenly the refrigerator cheese drawer was overburdened with non-dairy delights, calling for drastic measures of reduction. Seeking out the richest, gooiest recipe to pack in as much cheese as possible, the time was finally right to try making aligot. Like mashed potatoes but with equal parts spuds and cheese, this side dish is actually stretchy when made properly. Incredibly, overwhelmingly buttery, it was delicious indulgence, but a bit much for me. After enjoying one portion of full-frontal aligot, the rest of the batch was mixed with a good dose of veggies and thinned out to make an incredible potato soup.

With recipe from Artisan Vegan Cheese in hand, vegans no longer need to offer their cheesy creations to others accompanied by a disclaimer, or a campy title like “cheez.” Leave the excuses back in the 20th century and join in on the future of cruelty-free cuisine; this is simply vegan cheese, no subtitles or purposeful misspellings, and it’s damn good.

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