BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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No Matter How You Slice It

Timing is everything when it comes to food reviews. Trends are as unpredictable as the weather, turning the latest and greatest innovations into old-hat just a month down the road. This unstoppable phenomenon has never been more clear to me as I flip through old files, discovering half-baked reviews from products first sampled almost a year ago (!) now. Where did the time go, and more importantly, why didn’t I share this gem sooner?

Daiya is practically a household name a this point, a pivotal player in the vegan cheese game. No other dairy-free shreds have achieved mainstream approval, nor prevalence, quite like their white and orange strands, initially making a splash back in 2009 as the very first meltable option. Not content to just ride the wave of this immense success, they’ve continued to innovate ever since that great success, unleashing cheesy goodness throughout countless other prepared foods. Their latest offering to cheese-loving dairy detractors shines just as brilliantly: Slices, imitating the flavors of cheddar, swiss, and provolone.

Provolone-Style slices were the only variety I could get my hungry mouth around at the time, but considering their culinary potential, the other two are worth seeking out for a second round. These are not fine cheeses you’d want to eat cold, plain, or otherwise uncooked. Surprisingly fragile and prone to crumbling straight from the package, the flavor doesn’t impress right off the bat. Borderline bland, with a subtle sweetness, these slices are definitely not meant for topping crackers. Where they really come to life is under a hot broiler, melted down to gooey, creamy, and yes, stretchy sheets. Mild but with a pronounced tang and satisfying salty accent, they’re appropriately rich, imparting an addictive sort of decadent fattiness upon any dish. Though it didn’t seem like a winner at first, I found myself increasingly taken with this simple cheesy pleasure. In fact, my tasting notes conclude with the declaration that the provolone option is the “holy grail of vegan cheese.” Overenthusiastic hyperbole aside, these are darned good slices.

But of course, I would never recommend eating them outside of a hot dish, which is why I heartily endorse the equally savory, slightly indulgent cheesesteak sandwich pictured above. Soy curls soaked in umami-packed mushroom broth make up the “meat” of the matter, tossed with lightly charred onions and roasted peppers, all smothered under a blanket of that prize-worthy provolone cheese. Altogether, it’s the kind of dish you could use to convert meat-lovers, cheese-lovers, and generally picky omnivores alike. So go ahead, give in to your cravings because now it’s effortless to keep them vegan!

Vegan Cheesesteak

1 1/2 Cups (About 2.8 – 3 Ounces) Dry Soy Curls
1 1/2 Cups Mushroom Broth

4 Teaspoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Thinly Sliced
1 Red Bell Pepper, Roasted and Thinly Sliced
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper
1 Tablespoon All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Reserved Mushroom Broth
1 Tablespoon Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce

3 Hoagie Rolls, Split and Toasted
9 Slices Provolone-Style Daiya Cheese

Begin by placing the dry soy curls in a large bowl and covering them with warm mushroom broth. Let them soak for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the soy curls are fully re-hydrated and tender. Pour off but reserve any excess liquid.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced onion and saute, stirring often, until aromatic browned around the edges. Add the bell pepper, oregano and pepper and continue cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are wilted and soft; about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, sprinkle the vegetables with flour and stir to coat. Gently pour in 1/4 cup of the reserved broth along with the soy sauce, bringing the mixture up to a simmer. After another two minutes, remove the pan from the heat.

To assemble your sandwiches, divide the soy curl filling between your three toasted rolls and lay three provolone slices on top of each. Run them all under the broiler for about 2 – 3 minutes, until the cheese is perfectly melted and gooey all over. Dig in immediately!

Makes 3 Sandwiches

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Fry Another Day

With an ingredient as versatile as cashew milk, the avenues to explore for recipe creation are truly endless. Slip it seamlessly into any formula calling for milk, non-dairy or otherwise, and you’ll have a sure hit on your hands. Finding a vehicle to truly feature and fully honor this typically under-appreciated component, however, is a considerably more challenging task. Milkier than most treats, pudding seemed like a promising concept to start with, but quickly grew boring without additional flavors added to the mix, covering up the delicate essence of cashew and thereby missing the point entirely. It would take much more than a bowlful of plain pudding to satisfy my craving for adventure, but perhaps I was going about the dessert all wrong to begin with. The idea had been sitting right under my nose the whole time, hidden amongst old notes about inspiring desserts yet to grace my kitchen. Leche Frita, or “fried milk,” is essentially very firm cubes of pudding that are pan-fried to a crispy finish. Who knew how drastically the whole package could change with that final kiss of heat?

My rudimentary knowledge of Spanish from the 3rd grade doing me no favors, I took a brief interlude to look up the word “cashew” and that was all I needed to know. Anacardo Leche Frita it was!

Lightly sprinkled with a touch of cinnamon, the crisp exterior gives way to an impossibly soft, creamy center, packed with more vanilla bean flecks than you could count. Decadent in taste but stunningly simple in composition, it’s one of those rare desserts that is greater than the sum of its parts. If you have cashew milk, I’m willing to bet that you already have everything else you need to make this recipe right now. Forget about fussy preparations; it’s little more than a cooked custard allowed to set, and can be prepared well in advance right up to the frying stage. Eaten hot off the stove, still slightly chilled at the very core, the contrast in textures and temperatures turns humble cashew milk into an extraordinary treat.

Anacardo Leche Frita

1/2 Cup Cornstarch
2 3/4 Cups So Delicious Cashew Milk
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

To Finish:

1/4 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
Additional Cinnamon, Optional

In a medium-sized saucepan, vigorously whisk together the cornstarch, cashew milk, and agave, beating out any lumps of starch before setting the pan over the stove. Once smooth and homogenous, turn on the heat to medium, and stir periodically as the liquid cooks. Meanwhile, lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish and set aside. Bring to a full boil, mix in the vanilla, and cook for just 30 longer, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan as you stir to prevent anything from sticking and burning, and being careful not to let the mixture boil over the sides. The pudding should have significantly thickened by this point. Turn off the heat, pour the hot pudding into your prepared baking dish, and smooth out the top with your spatula. Let cool to room temperature before transferring the pan to your fridge to thoroughly chill; at least 4 hours.

When the pudding is cold and firm, turn it out onto a cutting board and gently slice it into squares or triangles with a very sharp knife. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger, and gently toss one piece of the chilled pudding in at a time, making sure that all sides are completely covered.

Heat 3 – 4 tablespoons of the oil in a medium saute pan with high sides over medium heat. Once it begins to shimmer, gently lay the pieces of floured pudding in, leaving plenty of space around them for easier access. Cook for 3 – 6 minutes on each side, flipping when golden brown. Move the finished leche frita over to a paper towel-lined plate to drain off the excess oil, and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon just before serving. Repeat with the remaining pudding squares or triangles, adding more oil to the pan as needed, until all pieces are cooked to a crispy perfection.

Makes 10 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Cash[ew] is King

Well, it’s about time! Considering the proliferation of non-dairy milks, populating grocery stores near and far in unprecedented numbers, it seems unthinkable that cashews have been entirely missing in action… Until now. Who better than to unleash the world’s first commercial cashew milk than So Delicious, having proven their mastery of both frozen and refrigerated dairy-free delights? Before I even realized my own unfulfilled nut milk desires, this turned out to be the creamy drink I had been waiting for all along.

Almond milk is my typical go-to milk alternative, a prime candidate for drinking, baking, cooking, and yes, ice cream-ing. From here on in, consider that prime spot in my fridge under serious reconsideration, because So Delicious’ cashew milk performs all of those tasks with equal grace, and of course, great taste. Currently offered in only two flavors, Unsweetened Vanilla and Unsweetened, my only hope would be that the line takes off and expands to include a chocolate option, for those nostalgic chocolate milk cravings.

Both have an excellent viscosity, a moderate thickness without any cloying sensation. Though considerably less rich than homemade cashew milk, for a mere fraction of the calories (35 per cup) it tastes surprisingly creamy and even slightly decadent. A very subtle nutty flavor defines their background flavor, distinctly cashew in essence, and easily minimized when mixed into other recipes. Bearing a clean flavor with no sugar to speak of, they can seamlessly work in any application, a testament to their versatility.

In short, if you don’t give these cashew milks a try, you’re seriously missing out! They may very well replace my almond standby, at least once they gain wider distribution in more mainstream grocery stores.

Don’t just take my word for it, go try them out yourself! I happen to have two freebie coupons in my possession, and I’d much rather they be in your hands, ASAP. If you’d like to win one, leave me a comment by August 30th at midnight EST telling me about non-dairy milk. Write about anything at all, whether it’s a recipe for your favorite variety, a funny story that involves the dairy-free drink, or even a love sonnet if you feel so inspired. Just make sure you fill out your name and a valid email address in the appropriate boxes so I know who to contact. Two winners will be drawn and contacted shortly after the entry period closes. Good luck!

And the winners, as chosen by the wisdom of the random number generator are…

Commenters #14 and #37, otherwise known as Mrs Zuvers and workingonworkingmom. Congrats you two! Expect to hear from me shortly with details on how to collect your prizes.


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Sweet Relief

National Ice Cream Day, decreed to fall on the third Sunday of July, couldn’t have come at a better time. Still grappling with a week-long heat wave that stubbornly refuses to break or bend, keeping cool is the top priority for anyone living on the east coast. Though always a favorite treat no matter the weather, my appetite for ice cream really kicks into high gear during the dog days of summer, and this year’s sweltering forecast has prompted the same hunger to return with a vengeance.

Well over a year has passed since Vegan a la Mode was published, and yet I can’t stop churning up new flavors. Case in point, the Peach Pie Ice Cream pictured above was inspired by the abundance of explosively ripe stone fruits sitting on the kitchen counter, combined with my new focus on pies. Tender fragments of buttery pie crust are tossed in cinnamon and sugar before being baked to an even golden-brown. Nestled in between lashings of gooey peach jam, each scoopful of peach ice cream tastes like a creamier, cooler version of its namesake. Don’t wait until the next heat wave to add this refreshing yet decadent dessert to you to-do list: Grab the recipe on GoDairyFree.org and start churning as soon as your peaches are ripe!


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An Earth-Balanced Diet

Having nearly cornered the market on vegan butters, both nut- and soy-based, Earth Balance now seeks to conquer the whole buttery world. Expanding their empire exponentially in one fell swoop, those who eschew dairy can now spread it on thick with no less than three types of Mindful Mayo, plus a Coconut Spread. Specifically trumpeting the lack of soy in half of these new products, it’s clear that Earth Balance seeks to provide a little something for everyone, vegan and allergic alike.

Most groundbreaking of the bunch is the Coconut Spread. Claiming to be “perfect for baking and cooking instead of butter!” a challenge has been clearly declared and battle lines drawn. Tall promises for a humble ingredient, it does fill a niche left yawning wide open for decades, providing a soy-free option for those wary of the maligned bean. Pure white and somewhat waxy in appearance, it has no discernible scent out of the container. Solid straight out of the fridge but fast to melt, it smooths easily over a slice of hot toast, fresh from the broiler. Subtly sweet in the way that coconut naturally is, with a decent hit of salt to round out the fresh coconut flavor, a faux-butter, this is not. Don’t expect a straight butter replacement in the flavor department, as the Coconut Spread is true to its ingredients, tasting for all the world like a more spreadable coconut oil. Whether you like the flavor of coconut or not should be the deciding factor of your preference for this product.

The real question, however, was how would it bake up compared to Earth Balance’s more buttery offerings? Though I generally do not recommend using spreadable, tub-based margarines for baking, as they contain a greater percentage of water than stick-based “butters,” I gave the coconut spread the benefit of the doubt. Whipping up a simple chocolate-chocolate chip cookie, made many times over, I noticed a difference in the consistency of the dough right away. Far softer than usual, even a brief chill in the fridge did little to firm it up. Though they baked up just fine and were quite tasty, there was a marked variation in texture from the norm. Cakey rather than chewy, I would have to say that the coconut spread is not a viable direct substitute in baking, if you’re hoping to achieve exactly the same results. It will certainly work, and for those with no other option, fire up that oven by all means. I’m just not about to trade in my buttery sticks just yet.

Once my culinary nemesis but now a guilty pleasure, the Mindful Mayo couldn’t have been released at a better time. Now primed for a tasting, I was still reluctant to sample the spread in such a naked format, but I did it for you, my dear readers. Short of plunging in a spoon and eating it straight, it seemed that including it in a classic BLT would be an acceptable format for getting a good read on the flavor. Using tempeh bacon for the “B” portion of the sandwich, I made sure to really slather it on thick, as much as common sense told me not to. Thank goodness, my fears were unfounded, and it was a genuinely delicious sandwich! Thick and flawlessly creamy, you could easily stand a spoon straight up in the jar, which meant that it held up beautifully to the more hefty filling ingredients. Tangy, with a strong flavor of lemon and mustard than Vegenaise, it’s incredibly well balanced and adds serious “umph” to an ordinary bread and veggie assemblage.

Available in three varieties, I found the Organic and Original to be indistinguishable in flavor, unsurprisingly, but the Olive Oil mayo did mix things up a bit. Soy-free, whereas the aforementioned spreads are not, it’s a solid option, and one of the few available for those avoiding dairy, eggs, and soy all at once. However, I did find it a touch looser than the previous, and tangier, with a more fruity flavor as you would expect from decent olive oil. Lighter on the palate and perhaps a bit less rich, it’s a nice light option for those not as crazy about the traditional taste of mayonnaise.

Now fully stocked with three full jars of vegan mayonnaise, I had to do something to work down my excess. A simply green garlic dip easily filled that need, providing an excellent accompaniment to any party platter of crackers, veggies, or chips. Thanks to a serendipitous find of frozen garlic scapes, it took just a push of the “blend” button to churn out a gloriously emerald-hued and garlic-imbued dip.

Green Garlic Dip

6 Ounces (1/2 Package) Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
1/2 Cup Frozen Chopped Garlic Scapes, Thawed
1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Packed
1/2 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Teaspoons White Miso Paste
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Simply toss everything into your food processor or blender, and blitz until perfectly smooth. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, to ensure that everything gets incorporated. Season to taste, and chill thoroughly before serving.

Makes About 1 Cup

Printable Recipe


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WholeSoy Story

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

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

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

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

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

Blood Orange Frozen Yogurt

1 24-Ounce Container Unsweetened Plain Soy Yogurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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