BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Unsung Heros (and Hoagies, Tortas, Wraps, et al.)

Do I really need recipes for putting stuff between bread? What could be more simple, more intuitive than building a sandwich? At least that’s what I thought, ever skeptical, until that fateful day when Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes‘s latest collaboration, Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day, was crammed into my undersized mailbox. It’s okay to admit if you too underestimated the power of a properly constructed sandwich, as long as you proceed with an open mind. Besides, there’s so much more to it than just grilled “cheese” and veggie burgers- Wraps, rolls, open-faced sandwiches, hot and cold options, and even desserts are included. True, a few liberties may have been taken with the sandwich concept, but I’m ruling this one a fair play because it’s all worth exploring.

Starting at the beginning meant flipping to the final chapter first, where all the breads, “meats,” and other interchangeable additions are filed away. Seeking a loaf that could set my sandwich journey off on the right foot, “The Building Blocks” of chapter 8 is precisely the spot I landed before exploring any other tempting pages. Bread is arguably the most important part of a sandwich, creating is a solid foundation to build upon, imparting complimentary flavors, and still allowing the filling to take center stage when its solo must be sung. Knowing Celine’s talent for taming the wild yeast, I would expect no less than homemade options more exciting than your standard white bread, and she did not disappoint.

After purchasing an overwhelming volume of leafy greens yet again, the Green Monster Bread (page 178) was a god-send for dispatching a good portion of my arugula. In fact, I went ahead and doubled the amount called for, with excellent results. Living up to its name, the loaf rose to incredible heights in the oven, and each slice yielded a cheerful light green, fluffy crumb. A subtle hint of garlic is what really sets it apart- Though you may not be able to pick out exactly what that faint flavor is, it’s easy to taste that there’s something extra going on in there beyond the standard flour and water, making for a very tasty mystery.

Clamoring to utilize my lovely green loaf right away, I landed on the super simple Deviled (Not) Egg Salad Sandwiches (page 57) largely out of laziness. Already stocked with the necessary ingredients, it was only a matter of mixing and mashing before I had my first fully loaded lunchtime tower. Unlike any other faux-egg recipe I’ve ever known, liquid smoke adds an additional savory element. While highly enjoyable, this made me think more of a smoked fish salad, or an entirely new culinary creation. Happily, it doesn’t matter what you call it, as it should be a hit with any crowd. Smartly smashing the chickpeas means that they retain a nice bite, but won’t roll out like a handful of marbles between bread. Even outside of its sandwich assembly, it was a very enjoyable, eggless option.

Caesar salad has long been a rare “treat” for me, consisting of crunchy croutons, rich, creamy dressing, and some token lettuce just to fill the bowl. Well, the Tempeh and Arugula Caesar Wrap (page 68) has taken that filler salad and turned it into a well-balanced and highly satisfying portable meal. Rather than greasy croutons, toasted sunflower seeds provide the crunch in this combination, with simple marinated tempeh strips adding in a much needed punch of protein. Remarkably bold, tangy dressing ties the whole tortilla-encased filling together. This recipe will undoubtedly work its way into many future meals.

Ending with something sweet was in order, and the promise of Mango Butter and Ginger Whoopie Pies (page 167) proved irresistible. Despite concentrating the mango puree into a smooth, sweet paste, ginger completely out-shined any fruity flavors. Fail to mention the mango component, and even eaters with fine-tuned palates would never guess. Sparkling brightly with gingery spice, that didn’t stop me from savoring those fluffy, cakey cookies one bit. Melt-in-your-mouth tender once fully stacked, the creme was aggressively sweet by itself, but sufficiently tempered by the cookies’ bite. Something tells me that this recipe will be worthy of a second visit, perhaps in cupcake format instead.

I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on all that Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day has to offer, but I’d like you to have the opportunity to taste test as well. Are you up to the challenge? Let me know about your current favorite sandwich in the comment section, and one randomly chosen winner will walk away with a shiny new copy of this cookbook to enjoy. You may even find a new combination that steals your sandwich-loving heart! Be sure to include your name and a valid email address in the appropriate boxes before Saturday, September 29th, at Midnight EST. This post will be updated with the winner shortly thereafter.

UPDATE: As chosen by everyone’s favorite random number generator, the winner is…

The owner of comment #39! That means the book goes to… Richa! Congrats, and check your email for further details!


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Practically Raw, Completely Delicious

Summer, with the rainbow of produce and borderline tropical climate it brings, is the best time to explore raw foods. Easier said than done in many cases, where recipes can drone on like novels and preparations easily stretch across numerous days, the whir of the dehydrator becoming white noise in the backdrop of every waking moment. It’s understandable why some people find raw “uncooking” intimidating, and given these serious hurdles to making a meal, I don’t blame them at all. It doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t be this way, though! Thank goodness Amber Shea Crawley finally broke out of her blog format and wrote us an all-inclusive book featuring her more flexible take on raw foods.

Practically Raw welcomes newcomers to this radical concept with open arms. Rather than drawing a line in the sand at 115 degrees, Amber invites us to do what makes sense, and even (gasp!) turn on the oven briefly if one desires. There’s no need to purchase new equipment or make insane investments in time- As promised, it is a very practical approach that leaves a cook feeling confident in their abilities to prepare health meals on the fly. The best part of all these tasty formulas is that they’re easy enough for the most cooking illiterate or harried housewife to muster.

A perfect example is the Mango Lassi (page 40.) Composed of only coconut meat, mango, and a dollop of agave, it’s so simple that it doesn’t truly need a precise recipe, but without one, you may not think to try it. This is just the push so many of us need to try something new, and take away the fear of exploring out into the vast unknown of culinary wilderness. Thick enough to eat with a spoon, it’s a far more satisfying drink than one might imagine, and the flavors couldn’t be fresher or brighter. Proof positive that nature needs only a little coaxing to yield something even more delicious than its original parts.

Almond Butter Sesame Noodles (page 141) are a foolproof dish any way you serve them, but I relish any opportunity to use kelp noodles. Adding in a handful of pea shoots for color and crunch, it couldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes start to finish, washing and chopping included. Balanced beautifully between the salty, sweet, sour, and spicy ends of the spectrum, it made for an incredibly satisfying yet lightweight lunch.

Collard greens always score big points with me on restaurant menus, but whenever I get those giant paddle-like leaves home, my inspiration runs dry. Amber’s Athenian Deli Collard Wraps (page 139) finally gave me the push I needed to do more than just juice or blend those luscious greens. Creating a neat little parcel stuffed with zucchini-based hummus, nut cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and cucumber, those collard greens have finally found their true calling. Surprisingly cooperative, they were no more difficult to roll than the average flour tortilla. The richness of the “cheese” and hummus offset that inherently earthy essence, and the contrasting textures made each bite exciting. Though this particular bundle was a delightful snack, I can easily see the wraps cut into smaller pieces to become impressive party appetizers, too.

Craving sushi but not the labor involved in rolling up maki? Skip the hassle and just drop all the fillings into a dish with the Deconstructed Sushi Bowl (page 152)! Admittedly, I was highly skeptical of raw cauliflower-based rice, but this recipe truly impressed in the end. Lightly seasoned with rice vinegar, it really did have the flavor profile of sushi rice, but somehow managed to be much fluffier and lighter in texture. Nori adds that vital oceanic essence, so although it’s only written as an optional addition, I would insist that you make it mandatory in your own rendition.

With an eye towards both flavor and health, each recipe also includes nutritional information, so you know exactly what you’re getting with each meal or snack. Plus, Amber outlines about a thousand and one variations and alternate suggestions for switching things up. Instructions include both raw and cooked version of many dishes, plus different veggies that would work well for a change of pace, or substitutions in case of allergies or hard to find ingredients. Truly, Practically Raw is the raw cookbook that everyone can to enjoy.


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A Frozen Fourth of July

Our Independence Day, the most patriotic of national holidays here in the US, typically fails to stir up much enthusiasm from me. The backyard barbecues are a welcome excuse to grill some easy entrees and catch up with old friends, but that could happen on any summer day, too. Plus, that red, white, and blue color scheme is a bit uninspiring… Most of the time. Inexplicably and without warning, it just hit me the right way this time around. Without plans or any party to attend, I still couldn’t resist the bait- I went all out to make a festive fourth of July dessert. In fact, now I want to throw my own little fete because of this impromptu project…

This cake is the key to turning the holiday into a real celebration. Fluffy billows of snow-white whipped coconut creme obscure a sweet surprise within. Though plainly ordinary from the outside, just remove a slice and watch guests’ faces light up…

To cool off a sweltering summer day in the sun, ice cream cake is just what the doctor ordered. Trust me on this one, it’s the only prescription suitable to combat exhaustion, hunger, heat, and dessert cravings all at once. Red velvet cake, one of my unexpectedly most popular recipes, has been given new life as the base of this icy layered treat. Revised and tweaked to perfection, it now practically glows with a crimson-red hue, all from a little can of cooked beets. For anyone who complained about an overtly lemon flavor, that issue is now a thing of the past. All you can taste is cake, sweet, moist, lightly cocoa-flavored cake.

Blue Moon Ice Cream lends a subtly fruity, mysterious yet comfortingly familiar flavor to the assembly. The real inspiration for this whole frozen dessert, it’s rare to find such a bright blue food, and so I seized the opportunity as soon as I could. Never mind dusty blue corn chips or purplish-blue potatoes- This ice cream is really blue!

If you didn’t plan ahead and pre-order a copy of Vegan a la Mode, then you’re in luck- Sarah of The Sweet Life is generously hosting a giveaway, which she put together without any prompting and paid for out of her own pocket. There’s still time to get in on the action and see this recipe for yourself, so don’t delay and enter the contest now!

Putting together this ice cream cake is much easier than it looks. Simply prepare the red velvet cake according to the instructions, but transfer the batter into a 9-inch round springform pan lined with a round of parchment paper on the bottom and lightly greased. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out clean, with perhaps a few moist crumbs clinging to it (but absolutely no wet batter.) Let cool completely, and chill before proceeding. Meanwhile, prepare the Blue Moon Ice Cream from Vegan a la Mode (page 8) according to those directions, and after churning, transfer the still soft ice cream to the same springform pan, smoothing it over the baked cake evenly, leveling out the top with a spatula. Let the whole thing harden in the freezer overnight before attempting to unmold.

Once firmly frozen, remove the sides from the pan, peel the parchment off the bottom of the cake, and transfer the two layers to a serving platter, cake plate, or cake stand (remember that you’ll have to fit it back into the freezer though, so double-check that there will be enough space to accommodate your dish!) Frost with coconut whipped creme, and top with edible star glitter, if desired. Store in the freezer until ready to serve, and then…

Celebrate!

Have a Happy Fourth of July!


92 Comments

Wild About Greens

Mothers who once championed the old dictum of “eat your veggies” now have a new refrain to the familiar song: “Eat your greens.” Having risen from the periphery of American grocery stores, once literally lining the deli cases as nothing more than colorful, long-lasting garnishes, kale has paved the way right back into the kitchen for all manner of leafy edibles. Finally, after decades of neglect, those oft-forgotten flowerless bouquets are finally welcome house guests, and there’s more than just romaine and spinach going into summer salad bowls. Still, the trend is only in its infancy, and after so many voluminous raw hodgepodges of discordant ingredients, what can really be done with these overgrown lawn clippings? And moreover, how can we prevent them from tasting as such?

Riding the crest of this wave is Nava Atlas, who brings us Wild About Greens exactly in our hour of need. Introducing a whole palate of varied greens to even the most inexperienced of cooks with a gentle, warm, and inviting tone, Nava will take your hand and guide you from the grocery store to the dinner table, and all spaces in between. Doling out equal parts reassurance and enlightening information, this book is definitely geared towards the greenest of beginners, but provides inspiring flavors to get anyone out of a produce rut. Such a depth and breath of different edible plants are covered, there’s likely to be something new for anyone to try. You may claim to be a kale expert, but how often do you cook with beet greens? What about watercress? Have you ever tried mizuna in your green smoothie?

In a comfortingly familiar cloak of tomatoes and herbs, the Italian Vegetable Ragout with Chard (page 126) would make an excellent introduction for those less enthusiastic about incorporating more greenery into their diets. Adding in the optional chickpeas turns this hearty side into a perfectly satisfying one-pot meal. Enlivened with a pinch of red pepper, the interplay between tomatoes that are both roasted and sweetly sundried is so flawlessly balanced, it’s hard to believe the whole dish came together in mere minutes.

Curry, another common, endlessly accommodating staple in my diet, gets new life with the simple addition of pungent mustard greens and tender spinach. Coconut Cauliflower Curry with Mustard Greens and Spinach (page 186) blends mild spices and coconut milk to create a rich, golden elixir of a stew. Safely falling into a child-friendly heat level, it’s an excellent meal to make for a family, and ramp up the hotter spices on individual servings, to taste. Mustard greens are a newer ingredient to me, and while I would rather eat grass clippings than a couple of its raw leaves, this creamy yet still light sauce can excuse a whole host of flavor flaws- Proof positive that it only takes the right cooking method to make even the most maligned greens easy to swallow.

The salad section is of course abundant with suggestions, and now that the heat of summer has come to stay for the season, those are very enticing pages to explore. Breaking out of my own personal food taboos, I fearlessly took Nava’s lead and combined fruits with savory vegetables (gasp!) and ate watercress raw for the first time, emboldened by the Sumptuous Spring Greens Salad (page 156). It seems silly to rave about a salad, but this one deserves all the praise. Much more thoughtful than just odds and ends tossed together, the combination of sweet yet tart green apples softens the bitter bite of radicchio and peppery flair from the radishes. Creamy avocado brings texture contrast to the party, a welcome reprieve from the crisp and crunch all around. It’s a kick-starter that makes one wonder, “why didn’t I try this before?” Simple even for a side, yes, but every bit as noteworthy as an elaborate main.

Thrilled to have any excuse to pull out my oft forgotten juicer, the section on beverages provides the confidence I frequently lack when it comes to combining greens with sweeter fruits. The Spinach and Lettuce Refresher (page 206) is, as promised, very refreshing indeed! An excellent beginner’s green juice, it’s mild, not at all bitter, and lightly sweet thanks to the addition of apples; no need to add the optional agave at all. Slightly tangy thanks to lemon juice, this beverage may just become the new lemonade around here.

The beauty of the recipes showcased in Wild About Greens is that they’re built to take on whatever you throw at them. Want to swap collards for kale? Go for it! Nava provides plenty of substitution advice, but the versatility of each preparation goes beyond that. It would take a concerted effort to ruin any of these recipes; go ahead and change the veggies, add beans, take away herbs, do your worst! Wild About Greens succeeds in removing the fear of failure from cooking with new ingredients, and can plant the seed for entirely new recipe ideas. It truly has never been easier to eat green.

It would be a downright shame not to spread these delicious ideas further afield, so I’m thrilled that the publisher has so kindly offered to share an additional copy for one lucky reader to win! If you’re looking to get more greens into your diet, tell me about your current favorite leafy ingredient, and how you like to prepare it. Links and recipes are encouraged but not necessary! The basic requirements, as per usual, are names and valid email addresses in the appropriate boxes. Please, only one comment per person, and be sure to speak up before Midnight EST on June 27th. I’ll contact the winner shortly thereafter, so keep an eye to your inbox.

UPDATE: The winner, chosen by the fair and just random number generator is…

The lucky commenter behind entry #7, 3littlebrds! Get ready to load up on the leafy greens, because you’re gonna want to put them to use right away!


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Let Them Eat Vegan!

A title like that truly needs no further introduction, but I still can’t resist gilding the lily a bit. To anyone in the market for a well-rounded cookbook with delicious ideas from breakfast through dessert, all developed with an eye towards wholesome ingredients, there isn’t a title I can recommend more highly than Dreena Burton‘s latest masterpiece, Let Them Eat Vegan! I won’t hesitate to admit that my advice on the matter is entirely biased, though; It was my incredible fortune to supply the photographs found inside, tasting my way through the whole experience. A dream job if I ever did land one, these dishes came together with ease, and were so naturally enticing that they practically styled themselves.

Pan-Fried Falafel Patties (page 145), Smoky Spiced Tahini Sauce (page 54), and Quinoa Taboulleh with Olives (page 40) all go together to create one transportive middle eastern feast. Preparing three recipes for one photo can be a daunting task, but not so for this trio; each component was a snap to whip up, and keeps beautifully if made in advance, too. I do love all things falafel, and these bad boys have the edge on the competition, because they’re cooked in only a dab of oil, rather than the traditional vat for deep-frying. The texture and taste don’t suffer one bit from this adaptation- If anything, it allows those complex spices to shine through even brighter.

Even something as unassuming as a tempeh sandwich- or “Tempeh Tickle“- (page 122) with Spinach-Herb Pistachio Pesto (page 154) is a meal to remember. Satisfyingly hearty without being overtly “meaty,” it’s something both crunchy-granola vegans and staunch carnivores could enjoy in peace.

Rarely do brownies sweep me off my feet any more, as reliably rich and chocolaty as they are, but Dreena’s are something else entirely. Layered with a decadent, lightly tangy blanket of “cream cheese” and topped with whole chocolate chunks, each bite is a delicious study in complimentary textures. An additional pinch of salt crowning the whole tray is truly better than the icing on the cake. Even if you’re as jaded on these classic bar cookies as I am, give this recipe a shot. In Ms. Burton’s talented hands, brownies are still every bit as revolutionary as when they were first “accidentally” invented in the early 1900’s.

Creamed Cheese Brownies with Salted Dark Chocolate Topping

From the book Let Them Eat Vegan! by Dreena Burton. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012. http://www.dacapopresscookbooks.com Photo by Hannah Kaminsky.

Wheat-Free, Soy-Free

“No faux cream cheese to be found in these deep, rich, fudgy brownies. Cashews stand in for a cream cheese–like layer, which takes these brownies to, ‘OMG these are freaking good!’ ’Nuff said—go make them.”

Creamed Cheese Layer:
1 cup soaked cashews
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp vanilla non-dairy yogurt (if using coconut yogurt instead of soy, add another 1 tsp lemon juice)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp (rounded) sea salt

Brownie Layer:
1 cup + 2 tbsp sifted (or light) spelt flour
¾ cup unrefined sugar
½ tsp sea salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp arrowroot powder
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup + 1 tbsp plain or vanilla non-dairy milk
3½ tbsp neutral-flavored oil

Topping:
1/3 – ½ cup chocolate chunks (use a good quality dark chocolate bar, and break/cut into small chunks)
Few pinches coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.

Prepare cream cheese layer: Puree all those ingredients with an immersion or high-speed blender until very, very smooth (a mini food processor can also be used, but it usually doesn’t produce as smooth a texture as does an immersion blender). Process for several minutes, if necessary, until very smoothed out.

Prepare the brownie layer: In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt, and sift in the cocoa and baking powder.

In a small bowl, first combine the arrowroot with the maple syrup, stirring until smooth, then add the vanilla, milk, and oil. Add the wet mixture to the dry. Stir until evenly mixed and thick. Transfer about two-thirds of the mixture to the prepared pan. Use a square of parchment to help the press mixture into the pan evenly and spread it out. Spread the cream cheese layer over the top. Then, as best as you can, spread the remaining brownie batter over the cheese layer. You can take pieces and lightly spread first with your fingers and place in patches over the cream cheese layer—and it doesn’t have to fully cover; there can be spaces—most will fill in and come together while baking.

Add the topping: Place the chocolate chunks on top, and then sprinkle with the salt. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan, running a spatula around the outer edge to loosen. (The brownies will appear not fully cooked, but do not cook longer—I repeat, do not cook longer! Instead, let cool and they will become fudgy!) Once cooled, score the brownies with a sharp knife to ease cutting the chocolate before it completely hardens. Then refrigerate brownies to cool more, cut into squares and dig in! Makes 16-20 brownies.

If This Apron Could Talk: Trust the baking process! The amount of batter used for the base—and then topping— looks like it cannot possibly fill out to form a beautiful brownie. Lucky for us, the oven creates some magic in about half an hour!

Printable Recipe


Now that’s just barely even the tip of the iceberg. It would be a shame to keep such a gem to myself, so I’m thrilled to offer one lucky reader a copy of Let Them Eat Vegan!, as generously furnished by Da Capo Lifelong Books. For your chance to snag a copy, you know the drill; Leave a comment with a name and functioning email address in the appropriate boxes, and tell me about your favorite Dreena Burton recipe, from any of her equally fabulous books or website. If you haven’t yet tried any (What are you waiting for?!) talk to me instead about what you want to make first from Let Them Eat Vegan! The winner will be chosen at random May 9th at midnight EST, and announced shortly thereafter within this same post. Check back to find out who will end up 200 recipes richer!

PS, you may not want to wait for the contest to run its course, because Dreena has a special promotion going on now, including autographed bookplates and plenty of delicious extras along with your shiny new cookbook. If you end up winning a second book here, it also makes an excellent gift for anyone who likes food, so check it out!


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Out Of This World Vegan Feasts

“You always hurt the one you love,” or so goes the pervasive pop music refrain, but truer words were never spoken- Especially when it comes to cookbooks. Tidal waves of new books continue to sweep in across the foundation of vegan cooking, which is great for exposure and variety, but not always such a positive thing for quality, or true staying power. When a new cookbook finally comes along that gets me genuinely excited, I cling to it, for fear of it being washed away with the rest of the overflowing texts. Perhaps its a subconscious means of saving the best for last, but it’s those books that I want most to dive into that get neglected the most. Wanting to do them “proper justice” means cooking from them with abandon, picking out just the right recipes, and analyzing them to the fullest, but that eventually becomes an impossibly complex task. Thus, World Vegan Feast by Bryanna Clark Grogan has been sitting on my overburdened bookshelves since at least November, bookmarks sticking out of almost every crevasse, but completely unexplored. Rather than striving for the “perfect,” complete, full-on feasting review, let’s just go with a little taster.

Immediately appealing for its sheer diversity in flavors and techniques, cultures collide in this all-inclusive compendium of veganized world cuisine. Best of all, no stone is left unturned, and homemade solutions to faux meats, seasoning mixtures, dairy-free cheeses, and any other staple you can dream of are provided as well. Bryanna has gone out of her way to educate the cook, not just provide a few isolated recipes, so they might learn to create their own dishes through her examples. Menus are even suggested for all sorts of engagements, both big and small, to please any guest. It’s not all good news though; recipes don’t get their own individual pages, so it can often feel like one big run-on sentence as ingredient list and preparations collide. Pictures are provided in a central insert, but aren’t exactly plentiful. Luckily, a quick check of Bryanna’s blog can oven be enlightening since many of the images (and even full recipes) are shared there.

Dipping in a toe to test the waters, the Potato and Mushroom Miso Soup (page 74) sounded like a quick, easy, and comforting dish to kick start the cookbook test drive. Easily slapped together at the last minute, surprisingly complex flavors came from such a deceptively simple soup. Deeply satisfying due to the triple whammy umami punch of mushrooms, miso, and kombu, sliced potatoes give this starter much more staying power than the typical wan broth. Not too salty, packed full of goodies surrounded by just the right amount of broth, it’s Bryanna’s finesse here that makes this combination extraordinary.

Another one to file under the “quick, easy, delicious” category are the Shwarma Wraps (page 60). Stuffed with highly spiced and toothsome seitan, it’s clear that the “meat” is absolutely the star of this show. Incredibly flavorful but only mildly hot, the combination of Middle Eastern spices is spot-on. Delightfully tangy, it’s powerfully acidic but not too sharp thanks to a quick trip through the oven. Though I served my “yogurt” on the side as a dip to prevent my lavash from becoming too soggy, it’s absolutely imperative to include, as it tames the burn of pickled peppers strewn amongst the milder fresh veggies. Once the seitan is prepared, you could throw this little number together in minutes and have a lunch to go or quick-fix dinner just like that.

Tempting readers with two separate dessert sections, clearly, there was no way I could end this review without a little sweet investigation. Although the Lemon-Strawberry Tiramisu (page 203) is related to a traditional coffee-flavored tiramisu only in basic construction, that doesn’t matter one bit considering the bright, fresh flavor it provides. Opting to make a half batch in individual servings, it was the perfect treat for an impromptu picnic- Even if that excursion only took me as far as the backyard. These creamy layered verrines were delightful, brightly spiked with citrus and lightened with fresh, ripe strawberries. Sliced almonds tucked between layers and sprinkled over the top are a nice additional touch, adding a bit of crunch to contrast the smooth creme filling. The Sponge Cake (page 177), though a bit player here, tasted remarkably like a dense, chewier version of angel food cake. Fluffy but still quite sturdy enough to withstand a soak in lemon syrup, this unassuming component clearly has great potential for other applications as well. All told, it’s the kind of dessert that no one with a sweet tooth could refuse.

That’s barely even scratching the surface on all the recipes I have bookmarked in World Vegan Feast. Think fish-free “salmon” loaves, vegan souffle omelets, and walnut-based Georgian-style matzo ball soup, just to name a few on my list. There’s a great big world out there to explore, and as demonstrated by this inviting cookbook, the kitchen is the best place to start.


32 Comments

Caught Sticky-Handed

Sticky Fingers Bakery has long been a sweet sensation within the vegan community, serving up pastries and other delights in the Washington, DC area since 2002, accumulating numerous awards over the years. Most remarkable of all was when chef and owner Doron Petersan broke into the mainstream, not only showing up on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, but stealing the whole show; Her vegan cupcakes won by a landslide against the butter- and egg-based competition. Now, while the bakery that has always been held in high esteem, it’s become a runaway hit sensation, and everyone wants a piece of the pie (or, cake, as it may be.) Luckily, Doron has recently released the secrets to her baking success in a cookbook chronicling the bakery’s most popular recipes, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets.

Upon receiving my copy, I wasted no time and flipped straight to the famed Cowvin Cookies (page 110) I had already heard so much about. Deceptively simple oatmeal cookies, every time I heard these gems mentioned it was breathlessly, typically accompanied by the words “incredible,” or “addictive,” so I couldn’t resist the temptation. However, it was clear that something was amiss when the instructions led me to form the cookies into individual rounds, rather than bars, as they’re found in the bakery. Pleasantly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, they made for fine oatmeal cookies… But didn’t quite live up to the hype. Particularly sweet when paired with the frosting-like filling, an additional hit of salt may have helped balance the whole assembly, and brought out a bit more flavor. I can’t say I would make them again as written.

Undeterred, I charged straight ahead to a breakfast treat in the form of Orange Cranberry Scones (page 175). Fashioned into a heart shape for Valentine’s Day, they held their shape admirably throughout their time in the oven. Utilizing the creaming method to bring ingredients together, rather than cutting in to make flaky layers, the resulting scones are more like cookies in texture. No matter, as they’re still plenty tender and bursting with bright citrus flavor. Accented by tart pops of dried cranberries, this sweet and tangy combo is an invigorating start to the day. Sweetened with restraint, the optional sugar topping really pulls the whole pastry together, and should not be skipped.

Suddenly finding myself with quickly perishing blueberries on hand, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets rescued the day (and the fruits) with classic Blueberry Muffins (page 155.) A sturdy but soft crumb gives way to polka dots of blueberries, lightly sprinkled with a crunchy oat topping. A perfectly respectable muffin, it certainly fit the bill, but may have been more successful with a double dose of berries, at least.

The real crowning jewels to this particular tome are, unsurprisingly, the cupcakes. Now I’m kicking myself for not starting there in the first place. Sure, vegan cupcakes are a dime a dozen these days, but how many times do you come across a George Caramelin Cupcake (page 90)? One of their winning offerings on cupcake wars, a rich chocolate cinnamon cake carried the weight of vanilla bean bourbon frosting, bourbon caramel sauce, and candied pecans with grace. Rising to impressive, perfect domes, the cakes themselves would have been perfectly tasty unadorned, but how could you say no to the suggestion of bourbon caramel? Boozy in a good way, the sauce came together easily and thickened beautifully after cooling, becoming the ideal consistency for delicate drizzling. The whole is so much greater than the parts, as incredible as they may sound alone, and I found myself compelled to “taste test” these beauties repeatedly before I felt satisfied with my assessment. Yes, all in the name of the cookbook review; I really took a hit for you guys on this one. It’s a tough job, but someone had to do it.

Rest assured, this book would be worth purchasing just for the cupcake section. Be prepared to use your kitchen scale though, because while there are mercifully weight and volume measurements included when possible, the difficulties of scaling down bakery-sized quantities leaves the standard American baker with a few fiddly measurements to contend with. Ultimately Sticky Fingers’ Sweets is a well thought-out compilation and homage to the DC bakery that started it all, and while all the recipes aren’t runaway hits, the ones that truly are make trying everything else worthwhile.

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