BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Cheesecake For a Sweet New Year

Even to the seasoned eater approaching new cuisines with an open mind, it can still be difficult to fully embrace something that falls well outside of established norms. Far beyond unexpected flavor combinations or uncommon ingredients, raw “uncooking” essentially turns the entire concept of hot food preparation on its head. Largely due to a lack of exposure, the concept remains abstract at best for most of the world, which I’m quickly learning is a real shame. Working with the incredibly talented Gena Hamshaw on her upcoming cookbook has open my eyes, radically changing the way I view raw foods in general. Rather than the crazy gourmet raw foods we so often see in fine restaurants, the heart and soul of raw edibles is more about ease and straight-forward ingredients that are manipulated as little as possible. Inspired by her revolutionary recipes, I couldn’t stop thinking in the raw when it came time to craft my annual Rosh Hashanah dessert.

Apples and honey, the symbol of a sweet New Year, are almost painfully common flavors for the occasion, but a fresh approach to the presentation makes it taste new and exciting once more. Building the dessert on a crust made of dried apples and nuts, the apple flavor is intense, concentrated down into a small package, and packing a huge punch in even tiny wedges. For the honey component, it may or may not pass the scrutiny of the raw police, but nothing can even touch the floral sweetness of Bee-Free Honee. I had the pleasure of reviewing it for Laika Magazine a million moons ago, or so it feels, and have been hooked ever since. Dark agave can substitute in a pinch, but nothing else comes close to the incredibly accurate flavor that this honee bears, without the input of a single bee. Besides, what could be better for the holiday than a “honey” that is in fact made out of apples? There’s something quite poetic about that synchronicity.

As for the topping, well, that’s a case of “do as I say, not what I do.” Walking in the door of my Nana’s house with cheesecake in hand, everyone who laid eyes on the original presentation feared that I had topped my treat with slivers of raw red onion. Immediately scrapping that concept and grabbing the first green apple I found, thin half-moons were much more visually pleasing, and the different color helped erase that initial unsavory impression. As I’ve now learned, this is an opportunity to leave the fancy garnishes at home- The rich flavors will speak for themselves.

Raw Apples and Honey Cheesecake

Apple-Pecan Crust:

1 Cup Chopped Raw Pecans or Walnuts
1 Cup Dried Apple Rings, Firmly Packed
2 Large Medjool Dates, Pitted
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Honee-Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Filling:

1 Cup Raw Macadamia Nuts, Soaked for at least 6 Hours
1 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces, Soaked for at least 6 Hours
3 Ounces (6 Tablespoons) 100% Pure, Food-Grade Cocoa Butter, Melted
1/2 Cup Bee-Free Honee
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Whole Vanilla Bean

To Finish (Optional):

1 Large Green Apple
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice

For the crust, start by tossing the pecans or walnuts into your food processor with the s-blade installed. Pulse thoroughly until the nuts are mostly broken down into a fairly fine but coarse powder. Add in the dried apples, dates, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse again to incorporate. Continue processing until the fruits are blended in, no large chunks remain, and the mixture sticks together when pressed. Transfer to a 9-inch round springform pan and use your hands to press it firmly and evenly across the bottom. If it proves too sticky to easily handle, lightly moisten your hands before proceeding, or use the bottom of a flat measuring cup to help achieve a smoother surface. Stash the pan in the fridge while you move on to the filling.

Thoroughly drain the macadamias and cashews before placing them in either your blender. A high-speed blender is definitely recommended to achieve the smoothest texture, but with a good bit of patience, a standard blender can suffice. Add in the melted cocoa butter, bee-free honee, and lemon juice. Because I’m lazy, I tend to just chop up my vanilla beans into inch-long pieces and add the whole pods in as well. If you’re using a lower-powered machine, you should go the more traditional route of slicing them down the center, scraping out the seeds with the side of your knife, and adding those to the mixture. Save the spend pod for another use, such as vanilla sugar.

Turn on the blender on low to start chopping up the nuts, and slowly increase the speed until you’ve reached the highest setting. Thoroughly puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister as needed, until completely silky-smooth. This could take as long as 5 – 10 minutes depending on your machine, so be patient. Pour the resulting filling over your prepared crust, tapping it gently on the counter to knock out any air bubbles. Smooth over the top with your spatula before returning the whole assemblage to the fridge. Chill thoroughly, for at least 3 hours before serving, for the cheesecake to fully set to a slicable consistency.

If desired, cut in half, core, and thinly slice a green apple and toss with lemon juice to prevent browning. Arrange the slices artfully across the top right before serving. Slice into thin wedges with a sharp, and keep chilled for the best texture and flavor.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe


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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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Lost and Found

Organization doesn’t come naturally or easily to me. Growing up, my favorite filing system was to stash nearly everything in my designated “junk drawer.” Cramming everything from silly putty, scribbles on torn half-sheets of paper, old holiday decorations, underwear, and beyond occupied that small space; a veritable stew of everyday detritus. Delving into the depths of the junk drawer was a journey into uncharted territory. Each exploration through that wild mishmash was a genuine treasure hunt, yielding long-forgotten favorite toys or memories of happy occasions. The junk drawer was my earliest attempt to save everything near and dear to me, which ironically resulted in many more of those items getting lost.

You’d think I would learn from such a noteworthy mistake, and yet the junk drawer lives on, only in a digital format. Computers and memory disks and burned CD’s all have a random sampling of of past works, essays from high school mixed freely with more recent recipes and photos. Though the situation has improved greatly over the years, I still find myself sorting out the mess, sometimes stumbling upon a gem worth polishing back to its original luster.

Such is the case with these Oatmeal Cream Cupcakes. Originally shared merely as a photo in a review post, it was a killer recipe that was meant for prime time, not just late fringe. Shockingly little was said about the sweets themselves, which is a real shame considering what a hit they were, despite the failings of the original frosting. Inspired by oatmeal cream pies, a classic childhood treat that I never actually had. Compact, portable, and boasting comforting, simple flavors, it’s easy to understand their appeal even without firsthand experience. Soft, chewy oatmeal cookies can do no wrong, and with a smidgen of creamy frosting uniting two in harmony, such a fool-proof formula elicits a feeling of nostalgia even for this outsider.

Rather than going through the fuss of scooping, rolling, and patting out cookies, it just sounded easier to convert that concept into cupcakes. Having the opportunity to hone the original recipe further to better suit my evolving tastes, perhaps becoming lost in the virtual junk drawer wasn’t such a terrible misfortune to befall this file. Now, if only I could find the others missing in action…

Oatmeal Cream Cupcakes

1 1/2 Cups Old Fashioned Rolled Oats, pulsed in food processor
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Optional Add Ins: For a less literal but more exciting approach to the original creme pie, consider adding up to 1 cup total of toasted, chopped walnuts, chocolate chips, and/or raisins.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 8-Ounces Package Vegan Cream Cheese
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 12 standard muffin tins with cupcake papers.

Pull out your food processor and toss in the rolled oats. Briefly pulse to break them down, keeping the flakes fairly coarse, much like instant oatmeal. Transfer to a large bowl and add in the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon and ginger, whisking thoroughly to combine.

In a separate bowl, mix together the oil, melted margarine, both sugars, non-dairy milk, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula until just combined. A few remaining lumps are fine, as long as there are no large pockets of dry goods.

Divide the batter evenly between your prepared tins, filling them each about 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 18 – 22 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centers of the cakes pulls out cleanly. Cool completely before applying frosting.

Make the frosting by simply beating together the “cream cheese” and margarine in the bowl of your stand mixer until smooth, adding in the sugar and vanilla, and then whipping on high speed for a minute or two, until homogenous, light, and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically to make sure that everything is fully incorporated. Pipe or spread to your heart’s content.

Makes 12 Cupcakes

Printable Recipe


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Do You Believe In Magic?

Imagining them as the product of sorcery or witchcraft does a disservice to the whole concept of magic bars. Rather, the creation of such enchanting treats ought to be considered as kitchen alchemy, no less miraculous than an otherworldly spell.

How else could one explain the process of turning what appear to be discordant ingredients into this classic layered assembly of cookies, chocolate, nuts, and coconut? Especially when the process demands little more effort than what’s required to switch on the oven, it strikes me as a particularly bewitching sort of everyday magic. Of course, the original cast of characters is fairly mundane, in need of a new rising star and fresh script. Inspired by the play on words, black magic lured me over to the dark side for this delicious twist.

Blackberry puree, spiked with a touch of lime and vanilla, cloaks my supernatural sweets in fresh, seasonal berry flavor. Supported by a dark, devious crust of chocolate cookies rather than the standard graham crackers, the bars take on a high-contrast color scheme to better match their title, not to mention add a bolder bite.

Treading that fine line between crumbly, crunchy, and even a bit chewy, the toothsome texture is only one of many reasons why this classic concept took hold so many years ago. What’s even more incredible is how little effort goes into whipping up a batch. From fridge to table in under and hour, they may truly seem like the product of some black magic.

Black Magic Cookie Bars

1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Finely Ground Chocolate Cookie Crumbs
1 Cup (5 Ounces) Fresh Blackberries
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1 1/2 Teaspoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Lime Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2/3 Cup Unsweetened, Shredded Coconut
1/2 Cup Chopped Raw Walnuts or Pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together the chocolate cookie crumbs and melted margarine or coconut oil so that the whole mixture is nicely moistened. Transfer to your prepared baking pan and use the flat bottom of a measuring cup or drinking glass to firmly press the crumbs down in an even layer. Place in the fridge to chill while you prepare the remaining layers.

Place the blackberries and lime juice in your blender or food processor, and thoroughly puree, until the berries are are smooth as your machine can manage. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing down hard on the pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the seeds.

Mix the resulting seedless blackberry puree, sugar, cornstarch, arrowroot, lime zest, vanilla and salt together, and pour over your chilled crust. Evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts over the top, gently pressing all the goodies in to ensure that they stick.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the berries mixture bubbles up slightly around the sides and the coconut on top appears to have toasted to a golden brown hue. Cool completely before cutting into bars or squares. Store covered at room temperature for up to four days.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe


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Through Rose-Tinted Glasses

It was born from a backup plan; a plan B that was never needed. Planning for a photo shoot means preparing for the worst, and in this case, the “worst” translated to a late shipment of candied rose petals. Though only a small element of a demanding, detailed set, it was no small source of stress for the perfectionist in me. Destined for the cover of an ebook, the weight of its prominent placement and supreme visibility raised the stakes to dizzying heights. With all the hero dishes and supporting characters prepped to go, there was no stopping this shoot from barreling forward as planning, with or without those tiny crystalline flowers. Facing intense pressure not only to get it right, but to nail it on the first take, nothing else motives quite like the fear of failure. What else could have explained my mad dash to find unsprayed, organic roses at such a late hour, to paint them gingerly, one by one, with extra-fine granulated sugar? That dedication, bordering on obsession, has come to define my days of back-to-back photo shoots.

Of course, as luck would have it, the plan A roses arrived at the very last moment, just in time for their closeup. Crisis averted, the shoot went off without a hitch, leaving behind a wealth of sugared pink petals in its wake.

Incorporating my other ingredient excesses- namely, fresh strawberries as sweet as jam and the ever-present chocolate sandwich cookies that seem to have taken up permanent residence in my cupboard- that additional effort definitely didn’t go to waste. Fruity and floral, the resulting strawberry and rose tartlettes are personal portions of show-stopping desserts. Layered with a crimson strawberry curd at the bottom and a rich rose-scented pastry cream on top, each bite is accented by a crunchy chocolate crust containing the harmonious duo. Delicate, fragrant candied rose petals are truly the icing on the cake, or tartlette, as it were. Though technically an optional garnish, I wouldn’t dream if making these blushing beauties without them. They provided m initial inspiration, after all.

Strawberry and Rose Tartlettes

Chocolate Crust:

1 1/2 Cups Vegan Chocolate Cookie Crumbs (15 Chocolate Sandwich Cookies)
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

Strawberry Curd:

2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Agar Powder
1 1/4 Cups Seedless Strawberry Puree*
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice

Rose Cream:

1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Raw Cashews
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Arrowroot Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Agar Powder
Pinch Salt
1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Rosewater

To Finish:

Candied Rose Petals (Optional)

*To make strawberry puree, start with about 1 1/2 pounds of fresh strawberries and thoroughly puree them in your blender or food processor, until completely smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, discard the seeds, and measure out the amount called for in the recipe before proceeding.

Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees and placing four 4-inch springform pans on a baking sheet. Once finely ground, combine the cookie crumbs with the melted margarine in a large bowl, and stir well until there are no dry patches. Divide the mixture evenly between your ready and waiting tins, using lightly moistened fingers to press it evenly across the bottoms and up the sides. Bake for 8 minutes, turn off the oven, and set aside to let cool.

Meanwhile, to make the strawberry curd filling, whisk together the sugar and agar powder to combine. Place the two into a medium saucepan along with the strawberry puree and lemon juice, turning on the stove to medium heat. Whisk to break up any lumps of sugar, and continue whisking occasionally as it comes up to temperature. Once the mixture reaches a boil, turn off the stove and transfer the hot, liquid curd your baked tartlette shells. Fill each one halfway to the top with the mixture. Don’t worry that if it seems very loose and watery at this point; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Allow the curd to come down to room temperature before refrigerating the half-filled tartlettes. This step is very important, because tossing it in the fridge too early will weaken the gel, and you will end up with a runny filling.

Finally, for the pastry cream, toss the non-dairy milk, cashews, sugar, arrowroot, agar, and salt into your blender and let it rip. Blitz until completely silky-smooth, pausing periodically to scrape down the sides of the canister if necessary. Pour the resulting mixture into a medium saucepan over medium heat, and whisk frequently as it cooks. Be sure to continuously scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to prevent anything from sticking and burning. When bubbles begin to break on the surface, whisk in the rosewater and vanilla, and turn off the heat. Distribute the pastry cream evenly over the tartlettes, filling them all the way to the top. Smooth out the surface and let cool to room temperature before chilling in the fridge for at least 3 hours before serving. Top with candied rose petals at the last moment to prevent them from getting soft, if desired.

Makes 4 Tartlettes

Printable Recipe


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Stock Up on Strawberries

Nothing serves as better inspiration for new recipes than abundance, or if I’m the one grocery shopping, overabundance. With extra ingredients on hand, it’s easier to experiment a bit beyond your comfort zone, while still getting your fill of the classic preparations. Always wanted to try something new, but find the standby recipes irresistible? Well, you have no more excuses when piles of fresh produce are staring you down, demanding attention before they take over the kitchen. This is precisely the situation I’m expecting with strawberries as the star, because Whole Foods Markets across the country are gearing up for a blowout one-day sale tomorrow, Friday the 19th, on organic strawberries. At only $1.99 per pound, down from their regular price of $4.99, you would have to be crazy to walk out of that store without at least two or three punnets, minimum. I know I’ll be stocking up!

Maybe I’ll see you there, because at the Fairfield, CT location from noon to 2:00, I’ll be demonstrating one of my favorite pie recipes, a Roasted Strawberry Tomato Galette, along with some pie tips and tricks to help you make the most of your berries. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, Whole Foods Market has very generously offered to include a voucher for 1 free pound of strawberries with the purchase of one of my books, or the pre-order of Easy as Vegan Pie. This offer is valid only at the Fairfield store, but if you’re in the area, that’s all the more reason to make a special trip and stop by.

Incredibly, that’s not the end of the exciting news. To celebrate berry season, and not just strawberries, Whole Foods Market is providing a $75 gift card for one lucky reader to go on a bonafide berry shopping spree. Just imagine- If it weren’t for volume limitations, that could cover enough strawberries to fill a small swimming pool! Since that’s more than any one person, or even a small army could consume, I’m dying to know what you would do with the cash if you won. To enter, tell me what you plan to buy with the gift card, and what recipes you’d like to make from the windfall. Simply enter your name and a valid email address in the appropriate boxes before midnight (EST) on July 25th. You must be a resident of the US to enter.

The almighty random number generator has spoken, and chosen commenter #3 as the winner of the $75 Whole Foods gift card!

That means gaiantlc, congratulations: You’re the lucky shopper about to be that much richer in bulk beans, grains, and nooch!

This is the perfect opportunity to use vast quantities of strawberries and create a stunning summer pie, which is why I know I won’t be able to stop rolling out the dough when I get home. My Strawberry-Kiwi Pie from Vegan Desserts has been a rare treat throughout the years, only emerging periodically, as the strawberries tend to be quite a splurge. Finally, I don’t need an excuse to indulge!

Though currently out of print, Vegan Desserts is being refreshed in paperback format as we speak, due for a triumphant return to bookstores this coming November. Since I would hate to leave you hanging without a copy, at the height of this strawberry sale, consider this pie a small taste of what’s to come.

Strawberry-Kiwi Pie
From Vegan Desserts

Crust:

2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Margarine, Chilled
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
4 to 6 Tablespoons Ice-Cold water

Strawberry-Kiwi Filling:

3 Medium Kiwis
2 Cups Fresh Strawberries, Sliced
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Tapioca Flour
Pinch Salt

The crust for this pie is made like an traditional pie crust; Start by combining the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the margarine into small cubes and add it into the dry mix, tossing to coat. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut the margarine into the flour until you achieve a dry, crumbly mixture with lumps about the size of pebbles or peas. You can also pulse all of these ingredients in your food processor to speed the process along, if desired. Pour in the vinegar, and add the water one tablespoon at a time, continuing to mix or pulse until it just comes together into a cohesive ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for about 30 minutes before working with it further.

Divide the dough into two pieces, returning half to the fridge for the time being and placing the other half onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle additional flour over the top to prevent it from sticking, and roll it out to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, making it into a round shape at least 10 – 11 inches in diameter. Carefully fold it into quarters, without pressing down, and quickly move it into a lightly grease pin tin. Place the point of the folded dough in the center, and very gently unfold the sides so that it fills the pan, using your fingers to press it in evenly. Cut the excess dough away from the sides and add it into the second half sitting in the fridge. Place the whole pan in the fridge as well.

Now you’re ready to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

The filling is very easy to make and comes together quickly. In a large bowl, combine the kiwis, sliced strawberries, and lemon zest. Sprinkle on the sugar, tapioca flour, and salt over the top and toss to combine, thoroughly coating the fruit. Move all of the fruit filling into your prepared crust and set aside.

Take the remaining dough out and roll it out to the same thickness, cutting it into 1/2 inch wide strips. Arrange it in a lattice design over the top of the pie and crimp it by pinching it to the edges. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 – 55 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling away. Let cool completely before slicing or else the juices will run out.

Serves 8 – 10

*To easily peel kiwi fruits, cut off both ends with a paring knife and starting from one of the cut sides, insert a spoon just under the skin and twist the kiwi so that the spoon goes all the way around the circumference of the fruit. Repeat the process on the other end, and the “meat” of the fruit will simply pop out.

Printable Recipe


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Wild About Frozen Blueberries

I’ve been feeling blue lately… And rather happy about that! Blueberries are abundant once again and my appetite for the sweet, mildly tart and tangy berries is insatiable. For as many punnets as I plow through, my cravings remain unsatisfied. Even as we reach the peak of growing season, the produce on offer left something to be desired. The solution turned out to be just a few steps away, hidden in plain sight. A more intense blueberry experience lay not in the produce aisle, but the freezer case. Frozen Wild Blueberries, grown in Maine and Canada but available worldwide and year-round, are a whole lot more special than you may realize.

Oh sure, frozen Wild Blueberries boast considerable nutritional advantages over conventional, cultivated varieties, such as an unbeatable antioxidant levels just for starters, but that’s not what first lured me over to the wild side. It’s all about the flavor, and they sure do pack a giant punch of it into such tiny packages. That means that you’re getting about twice as many berries per cup, each with less water and more concentrated sweetness than fresh. For a baker concerned about runny pie filling or “bleeding” muffins, such a vast advantage over the competition is invaluable.

Considering the sudden an unpredictable heatwaves rippling through the east coast lately, my thoughts were focused squarely on cooler, more refreshing treats. Referring back to Vegan a la Mode for inspiration, cheesecake sounded like a luscious pairing that would best highlight these indigo gems. Bumping up the intensity with a bold pop of citrus, lemon zest turned the simple flavor pairing into a legitimate flavor party. Enjoying a slowly melting scoop in a fresh waffle cone, the jam-like Wild Blueberry swirl shaking up the creamy confection with the periodically bite of a whole berry, it was exactly the summer-loving taste I had been missing

And yet, that still wasn’t enough. What could possibly take this simple, sweet delight to the next level of dessert perfection?

How about sandwiching it between two thick squares of graham cracker cookie bars, adding more cheesecake character back into the equation while incidentally creating more portable treats? Yeah, that might finally do the trick.

If you should find yourself at a loss for how to dress up your very own frozen Wild Blueberries, and are hungry for a slightly less indulgent sort of refreshment, a good place to turn is Cooking Light‘s latest cookbook, Chill: Smoothies, Slushes, Shakes, Juices, Drinks & Ices. Though not a specifically vegan cookbook, most of the recipes are “accidentally” vegan, and all the rest easily veganizable. Though it may seem like a random tip to throw into the ring, now is the perfect time to check it out and potentially win your very own copy. See the details over at the Wild Blueberry blog ASAP! After all, the only thing better than a Wild Blueberry ice cream treat might be one paired with a tall glass of ice-cold Blueberry-Ginger Juice (page 125.)

Wild Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream Sandwiches

Wild Blueberry Swirl:

5 Ounces (About 3/4 Cups) Frozen Wild Blueberries, Thawed
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Cornstarch

Graham Cracker Cookies:

3/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3 Cups Finely Ground Graham Cracker Crumbs
2 Tablespoons Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
2 Tablespoons Vegan Sour Cream or Plain Yogurt

Lemon Cheesecake Ice Cream:

1/2 Cup (4 Ounces) Vegan Cream Cheese
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
Pinch Salt

Prepare the blueberry swirl first since it will take the longest to cook and fully chill. Combine all the ingredients in a medium sauce pan, stirring well before turning on the heat to break up any possible lumps of starch. Cook over medium heat, stirring periodically, until the mixture comes up to a full boil. Turn down the heat slightly so that it stays at a lively simmer, and cook for 1 minute longer, until thickened.

Remove from the stove, cool to room temperature, and then place in the fridge to chill until cold; about 2 – 3 hours.

Moving along to the graham cracker cookie, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch rectangular baking pan.

Place the margarine and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer, and cream the two together using the paddle attachment. Once thoroughly beaten and homogeneous, pause the mixer and add in the graham cracker crumbs, ground flaxseeds, salt, cinnamon, and vegan sour cream or yogurt. Starting at the lowest speed, allow the mixer to gently incorporate the newest addition, and continue stirring until the entire mixture is moist will stick together when pressed.

Transfer to your prepared pan and spread it out evenly over the bottom. Press it firmly into a smooth layer, using your hands or the bottom of a flat measuring cup.

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool completely before turning the whole cookie sheet out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Use a very sharp knife to slice it cleanly down the middle, forming two equal pieces. Trim away the dark edges so that it measures about 8 inches wide and 5 – 6 inches long.

Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, and carefully place one of the squares inside, fitting it snugly against three of the four edges. Pull the foil up against the remaining side that comes up slightly short. Place the pan and the remaining square of graham cracker cookie in the fridge.

Meanwhile, the ice cream itself comes together very quickly. Simply pile all of the ingredients into your blender and puree briefly, just until smooth. Blend no longer than necessary to prevent the mixture from warming up.

Pour the ice cream base into your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Pull out your square baking pan and spoon the soft ice cream on top of the graham cookie sheet inside. Smooth out the ice cream to evenly cover the cookie. Spread the blueberry swirl mixture on top, and use a spatula to swirl both components together. Finally, place the remaining rectangle of graham cracker cookie on top, and press down gently. Immediately move the pan into your freezer and let rest until solidified; at least 8 hours and ideally 12 or more. Slice the large ice cream sandwich into smaller rectangles and enjoy.

Makes 9 – 12 Ice Cream Sandwiches

Printable Recipe

This post was written for and is sponsored by Wild Blueberries, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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Crème de la Crème Caramel

Quick! Drop what you’re doing and whip up decadent, restaurant-quality dessert in a matter of minutes, without even turning on the oven. Don’t think it’s possible? With a properly stocked pantry and some shrewd thinking, you’re much closer to sweet indulgence than you may realize.

Spur of the moment, inspired by the full jar of speculoos spread sitting idly by in the cupboard, it suddenly became clear that this simple ingredient had a much greater destination than the average toast topper. Lending richness, body, and flavor all in one fell swoop, the cinnamon-scented cookie butter shines in this creamy custard. The slightly bitter edge of a dark caramel sauce envelopes each trembling round, adding greater depth than speculoos itself could hope to achieve. This is some swoon-worthy stuff, make no mistake. It may be a snap to throw together, but it sure doesn’t taste like it.

This is also my entry in the latest contest sponsored by So Delicious and hosted by Go Dairy Free.

Speculoos Crème Caramel

Caramel:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Speculoos Custard:

3 Cups So Delicious Vanilla Almond Milk
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Creamy Speculoos Spread
1 Tablespoon Agar Agar Powder
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot Powder
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Lightly grease six 6-ounce ramekins and set aside, but keep them nearby so they’re easily accessible.

Beginning with the caramel layer, combine the sugar, water, and vinegar in a small saucepan. Stir to moisten all of the sugar, but keep your spatula out of the pan from here on in, to prevent crystallization. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture starts to darken around the edges; 8 – 10 minutes.

Rather than stirring, gently swirl the pan to mix the sugar syrup and evenly color the whole mixture at once. This will also ensure that it doesn’t burn in the corners or on the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until the sugar turns dark amber. It should be just on the edge of burning and smoking, but not so close that it smells acrid. Once it starts to darken, it will continue to take on color very quickly, so keep a very close eye on it.

Turn off the heat and immediately pour the liquid caramel into your prepared ramekins, equally distributing it between the six. Let the custard cups sit, undisturbed at room temperature for the caramel to harden.

Meanwhile, turn your attention to the custard portion of the dessert.

In a medium saucepan, vigorously whisk together the non-dairy milk, sugar, salt, speculoos, agar, and arrowroot. It can be difficult to break up the mass of speculoos spread at first, so you may find it easier just to toss everything into your blender and give it a quick blitz instead. Either way, make sure that there are no lumps remaining before placing the saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Whisk frequently but gently, taking care to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan as as it heats. Cook until bubbles begin to break regularly on the surface and the liquid has significantly thickened.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla, stirring until fully incorporated. Carefully pour equal portions of the custard into the waiting ramekins. Tap the bottoms of the cups lightly on the counter to knock out air bubbles. Smooth out the tops with a spatula if necessary.

Let cool to room temperature before transferring to the fridge. Let rest until chilled; at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days.

To serve, simply tip each custard out of its ramekin and onto its own dessert plate. If it doesn’t release right away, run a thin knife around the edges and try again.

Makes 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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It’s Easy Being Green

Some of my most popular posts have been focused on finding natural alternatives to food coloring, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Colors make drab foods fun, increase appetite appeal, and everyone can agree that the fewer chemically-enhanced edibles on the market, the better.

St. Patrick’s day in particular has many people feeling a bit green around the edges. Being that I’m not Irish and don’t drink, my only strong associations with the holiday date back to the elementary school cafeteria, where the milk and bagels were dyed brilliant, neon green for the holiday. Oh, what fun it is to receive a meal that looks suspiciously moldy- Now that’s a real party! I can’t say I sorely miss that tradition, but it’s so laughably easy to offer a natural alternative to those artificial hues, I feel no compunctions about going green on any day of the year.

You have a whole range of green options, depending on the depth and intensity desired, all of them generally accessible and easy to use. To illustrate my point and add a bit of emerald cheer to this festive weekend, the above layer cake was baked using three separate natural green tints; one in each layer. For anyone who knows the usual suspects, can you guess what’s responsible for each separate shade? Take your time, and don’t cheat! Skip ahead for the answers…

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