BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Frozen Corn is the Cure

Gathering up my bags and grocery list, I stepped out of my enclosed oasis of air conditioning and into the midday sun. Slamming the car door shut and turning to go, I suddenly found myself caught. It wasn’t unusual to find my shirt, or purse, or even hair entangled in a closed door, but when I looked down to the source, I was unprepared for what I saw. Oh… Shit was the only clear thought that passed through my mind upon discovering that it was, in fact, my right thumb being held captive, fully enclosed in the not only latched, but locked car door.

Forget about that quick, routine grocery run. Although it took a moment for the pain to register, it roared into clarity the moment I finished fumbling to extricate myself. Gritting my teeth and marching into the store, passing through the produce and going straight to the freezer aisle, I grabbed the first thing I found that might stop the swelling: Corn. Nature’s first aid, frozen corn, in all of its icy glory. Of course, I still completed my shopping, the bag of frozen corn draped stiffly around my mangled digit.

No bones were broken and miraculously, no blood was spilled, but the thumb remains black and angrily inflamed well beyond its usual size even five days later. Traditional pain killers have proven ineffective at best, incapacitating at worst, and so at the end of the day, I find myself curled up in bed with yet another bag of frozen corn wrapped around my smashed finger. It’s the only thing that brings any modicum of relief.

All of that is to say that I have found myself with a considerable stock pile of corn, both frozen and fully thawed after serving as overnight ice packs. Giving their all for the cause, these kernels exhaust their typically toothsome structure along with their magical healing qualities, making for some rather mushy bags of corn pulp in the morning. Sending them off in a blaze of glory, the best way I’ve found to appreciate the service of these vegetables is in a golden puree of rich, summery soup.

The term velouté typically refers to a silky-smooth sauce, but in this case, it was the only term that seemed sufficient to describe the creamy, luscious texture of such a full-bodied soup. Thickened not with added starches, gums, or flours, its the bulk of the corn itself that creates this winsome quality. It’s a good thing I’m so fond of this blend, served both piping hot and thoroughly chilled, because it looks like there will still be a lot more where that came from… At least until my thumb is on the mend.

Roasted Corn Velouté

1/4 Cup Olive Oil, Divided
5 Cups Corn Kernels (Thawed if Frozen)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Small Onion, Diced
4 Small Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Medium Yellow Pepper, Diced
3 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the corn, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper, tossing until the corn is evenly coated. Spread the corn mixture out evenly on a large baking sheet. Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring at the 10 minute mark, until the kernels look lightly toasted.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan and begin to saute the onion. Introduce the garlic and yellow pepper next, stirring frequently, until all of the vegetables are golden brown around the edges. Add in 3 cups of the vegetable stock along with the lemon juice and 4 cups of the roasted corn, and let everything simmer gently for 15 – 20 minutes.

Transfer everything into a blender and thoroughly puree, until perfectly smooth. Add cayenne pepper to taste, and the final cup of vegetable stock if you’d prefer a thinner texture. Stir in the remaining cup of roasted corn before serving.

Makes 4 – 5 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Instant Ice Cream Gratification

The only thing worse than suffering through a sweltering hot summer day without air conditioning is trying to survive those same conditions without any ice cream in the house. It’s entirely possible that one can make do without such convenient modern amenities that would help abate the heat, but only if generous amounts of frozen, creamy treats are kept close at hand. Ice cream makes even chilly days more bearable, so going without a single tub of the cool confection is tantamount to criminal insanity. For those with limited equipment and limited patience, there have been few solutions to this conundrum outside of an impromptu grocery trip. Thankfully, non-dairy alternatives are no longer the anomaly in mainstream markets, although homemade ice cream will still beat out anything prepackaged any day of the week.

This recipe today goes out to all those ice cream fiends without ice cream machines. Plenty of low-tech methods exist for fabricating frozen treats without fancy machinery, but let’s be honest: Few people, myself included, care to fuss with scraping ice crystals or tossing around a plastic bag of ice cubes all day, just for a few bites of sweet satisfaction.

Your icy irritation ends here. All you need is a freezer, four ingredients, and an appetite. I would wager that you’ve already got two out of three already covered.

The ingenious CocoWhip by So Delicious is the secret ingredient that makes this sweet act of alchemy possible. Providing light, scoopable structure without any further agitation, the same results can also be achieved with good old whipped coconut cream, but starting with a ready-whipped and exceptionally stable base makes the process infinitely easier.

As luck would have it, So Delicious recently launched their Snackable Recipe Contest, so it would have been crazy for me to hold onto this treat any longer. Besides, as much as I love cooking, summer is meant to be enjoyed, not spent in the kitchen. Whip up this effortless ice cream base and go play; you’ll have a delicious dessert waiting for you when you return.

No-Churn Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

2/3 Cup Vanilla Coconut Creamer
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1 9-Ounce Package Cocowhip

In a large bowl, stir together the creamer, agave, and vanilla. Add in one small scoop of the Cocowhip, stirring to incorporate and begin to lighten the mixture. Introduce half of the remaining Cocowhip, folding it carefully into the liquid, keeping the airy structure as intact as possible. Repeat with the last portion of Cocowhip, leaving a few streaks in the mixture if need be; it’s better to under-mix than over-mix.

Pour the ice cream base into a loaf pan or air-tight container and carefully move it into your freezer. Allow it to sit, undisturbed, for at least 6 hours before serving.

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The Second Storm

“This is the worst winter ever!”

“You do realize it’s still early November, right?”

To that I could only groan, burying my frozen face as deeply into my wind-whipped hair as the paltry jacket hood would allow. Flecks of snow and tiny, sharp pieces of hail battered us head-on as we climbed uphill. It was a silly mistake, really, underestimating the power of the latest apocalyptic weather predictions while overestimating the strength of the car’s tires. Everything would have been just peachy if we had stayed inside, tending the pumpkin seeds in the oven and putting off our trip to the store until morning. We were just too ambitious.

Our grave error in judgement came into clear focus as the car slid slowly down hill, hugging the curves just fine but continuing along without consulting the driver. It was this very Curve of Death that got me last year, so my mom smartly stepped up to man the wheel. Thus, we were in this together, assessing the situation minute by minute with carefully chosen words, attempting not to alarm one another. Eventually the bottom of the slope met our gently free falling vehicle, and it was game over. Nothing could have convinced those wheels to grip and carry us home. The only choice was to set the hazard lights blinking, abandon ship, and trudge a mile home. There are certainly far worse outcomes, but I can’t say it’s exactly how I wanted to spend my evening, nor the most fun challenge to tackle in open high heeled shoes.

Naturally, the pumpkin seeds we left for “just a moment” were roasted to an extra-dark shade of doneness… Otherwise known as burnt.

So what was it that compelled me to suggest leaving the warm, safe house in the first place? Some matter of pressing urgency, a critical need that needed to be addressed immediately?

Oatmeal. Pre-cooked and frozen steel-cut oatmeal from Trader Joe’s, if I must be humiliatingly precise. I never meant to get so impossibly hooked on the stuff, regarding it as a novelty at first but now depending on it for a daily fix. Every single day for at least three years now, this is the stuff that gets me out of bed in the AM hours. Proper oatmeal cookery continues to elude me, and the time required for this morning meal would otherwise be prohibitive. At least, that’s what I tell myself as I reach for a 4th and 5th box on my weekly Joe’s run.

No more. After this little incident, I’m determined not to be completely dependent on Joe to satisfy my craving. Better yet, I can make something that he can’t put in a box, something that can’t be bought, and will hardly take any additional time. It’s all thanks to my handy pressure cooker that it’s possible, and completely painless. Toss ingredients in, set the timer, and in mere minutes the oats are tender, pleasantly chewy, and creamy all at once. A crisp caramelized sugar topping puts standard steel-cut oats on a whole new level, perfect for a holiday breakfast, brunch, or just any day that a treat is in order. Straddling that fine line between healthy oats and indulgent custard, its far richer than the stuff from the freezer aisle, but still something to feel good about getting a second helping of. With or without the added thrill of a brûléed top crust, oats have never had it so good.

Steel-Cut Oat Brûlée

1 3/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Raw Cashews
1/2 Cup Quick-Cooking Steel Cut Oats
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Brûlée Topping:

3 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Water

First, place the non-dairy milk and cashews in your blender and thoroughly puree, until completely smooth. This will create a thicker, richer “milk” to cook the oats in. If you don’t have a high-speed blender, soak the cashews for 4 – 6 hours beforehand so that they break down more readily. Otherwise, you may also substitute 2 cups of full-fat coconut milk or vegan creamer for the two ingredients and skip this step altogether.

In your pressure cooker, combine the blended cashew creme, oats, salt, and maple syrup, and stir well. Bring to high pressure and cook for 11 minutes, and then let the pressure fall naturally (natural release) until the seal is broken and the lid can be opened. Mix in the vanilla extract.

Divide the cooked oats equally between 4 – 6 ramekins, and let cool to room temperature. The oatmeal can be refrigerated and stored for up to 5 days at this point, frozen for 3 – 4 months, or Brûléed right away. If using frozen oats, allow them to fully thaw first, and if using chilled oats, allow them to come back up to room temperature.

Mix together the brown sugar and water to create a thick sugar paste. Spread 1 – 2 teaspoons over the tops of each ramekin filled with oats, to evenly coat the surface. Place the ramekins under a hot broiler set to high, and cook until the sugar bubbles and caramelizes. Serve immediately, with berries or sliced bananas if desired.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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Play it Cool

One of life’s great ironies is that summer brings in the widest selection of the most tempting produce, but also oppressive heat that makes it a less than appealing proposition to turn on the stove or oven to cook with it. To get the most bang for your vegetative buck, chilled soups are the way to go. Little prep work yields lots of flavor and something that can be enjoyed even as the mercury pushes 100. Though easily the most recognizable cold starter on the block, there’s so much more to the category than the classic gazpacho.

That’s where my creamy cucumber concoction comes in. Featuring my favorite vegetable of all time, the saying “cool as a cucumber” has withstood the test of time, and truly makes this soup the best food for impossibly hot afternoons or evenings. Ideal for both parties or solo servings, it takes almost no effort to whip up, and will keep in the fridge for at least three days, gaining a more complex and harmoniously melded flavor in time. The balance between creamy, soothing yogurt and the sharp punch of horseradish makes each bowlful much more exciting than the pale appearance might let on. Taking inspiration form tzadziki, a generous handful of fresh dill lends a garden-fresh flavor that brightens the whole dish.

For a satisfying, no-cook summer soup, think beyond gazpacho- Save the tomatoes for garnish this time around.

Cucumber-Yogurt Soup

3 Pounds Cucumbers (About 4 Medium Cucumbers)
1/4 Cup Shelled Hemp Seeds
1 Clove Garlic
2 Cups Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Prepared Horseradish
1/4 Teaspoon Ground White Pepper
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Chives
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Dill
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Medium Tomatoes, Seeded and Diced

Peel and slice the cucumbers in half, removing watery seeds if necessary. Finely dice 1 cucumber, and set aside. Chop the remaining cukes into medium-sized chunks, and toss them into your blender, along with hemp, garlic, “yogurt,” vinegar, olive oil, salt (starting with the lesser amount), horseradish, and pepper. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth. If using a low-powered blender, be patient and give it plenty of time to break down the seeds, straining if necessary. Add in the chopped herbs, and slowly begin to blend again. Incorporate the stock slowly while the motor runs, until it reaches your desired consistency.* Give it a taste, adding more salt if needed.

Stir in the reserved diced cucumber by hand, in addition to the seeded and diced tomatoes. Serve immediately or chill for up to three days. For best flavor, chill for at least three hours before enjoying. Stir in additional stock after chilling if needed, as it does tend to thicken as it sits.

*You could also keep it very thick, omitting the stock, to serve it as a dip.

Makes 6 – 7 Cups Soup

Printable Recipe


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Fiddler on the Plate

Wild edibles can be elusive creatures; hiding where you least expect them, and absent where they aught to be found. A hunt worth pursuing, it just takes a bit more effort to get dinner on the table if foraging is involved. Luckily, here in New England, the forests are ripe with fiddlehead ferns, and I was determined to find them. Hundreds of ferns spring up every year in my own backyard, but alas, they’re not the tasty sort that you’d want to consume. Clearly, it was time to search farther afield, as there was no chance I would miss out on these short-lived seasonal specialties for yet another year. An epic journey ensued, or a wild goose chase, depending on who you ask, with over 50 miles traveled. Out into the vast, untamed natural beauty of… Whole Foods in New York City.

Yes, I know, I’ve lost all “foodie” cred for admitting that, but I just couldn’t find those suckers anywhere. Not by poking through the swamps or shopping in any local markets- There’s good reason I always miss out on fiddlehead ferns every spring. Still, this was the next best thing to foraging in the great outdoors, and the bounty still ended up being free. Our gracious cashier didn’t know how to price them, readily admitted this problem, and handed over the goods free of charge. Gotta love that kind of luck.

Most important to any dish utilizing these delicate wild vegetables is to keep it simple, and allow those ferns to shine. Taking inspiration from their coiled shape, I thought of shrimp scampi, minus the seafood of course. Though it’s hardly a revolutionary recipe, it was a delightfully fast, satisfying dish, which would pair beautifully with just about any protein accompaniment, be it bean or wheat. Garlicky strands of noodles intertwined with the stars of the show, brightened by a hit of lemon and fresh herbs, it simply screams “spring!” Fiddlehead ferns do have a sadly short window of availability, so don’t wait; go and “forage” some for yourself, before it’s too late!

Fiddlehead Scampi

1/2 Pound Fiddlehead Ferns
1/2 Pound Angel Hair, Spaghetti, or Linguini
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Shallot, Finely Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tablespoons Mirin (or White Wine plus 1 Teaspoon Agave)
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
3 – 4 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, Chopped
1/8 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Salt, to Taste
Zest of 1 Lemon

First, prep your fiddleheads by removing any particularly long ends and remaining papery “scales.” Wash well, particularly if you did find them yourself out in the wild. Cook in boiling water for a full 10 minutes, drain thoroughly, and immediately plunge them into a bath of ice water to arrest the cooking process. Once thoroughly chilled, drain once more and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package, and drain well. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil to prevent the strands from sticking, and set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat the remaining oil and toss in the prepped shallot and garlic. Saute over medium heat for about 5 – 7 minutes, until softened and lightly browned. Add in the mirin and lemon juice, simmering for about 2 minutes to allow the alcohol to cook and mellow a bit. Add in the cooked noodles and fiddleheads, tossing to incorporate with the sauce, along with the parsley, cayenne, and salt. Cook for 1 – 3 more minutes until piping hot, and finally top with the lemon zest.

Serves 3 – 4 as a Side

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Pantry Purge

“Keeping a well stocked pantry” would be a very generous way of describing my penchant for collecting odd ingredients. A certifiable food-shopaholic, any interesting spices, unusual beans, new strains of rice that catch my eye are destined for the cart, no questions asked. Entirely new dishes could be unlocked with that one secret ingredient, and I’ll be damned if I let it slip through my fingers, just because I couldn’t see the final results right then and there. Vegan “skallops“? Sounds crazy, so I’ll take a can! Asafoetida? Translated roughly as “devil’s dug,” that simply sounds too enticing to walk away from. And thus, the pantry shelves at home groan beneath the weight of my bizarre, allegedly edible treasures, a collection of odds and ends that inspire, but fail to make it into the daily rotation.

Come spring, my inner neat freak pops back out of hibernation, and is horrified at the stock pile that’s been accumulating, slowly but steadily, for years. Living in the same home for nearly two decades allows one to hold on to many more possessions of dubious value than you’d think, as I’m now learning. Though the Skallops continue to mystify, horrify, and intrigue me, this latest round of pantry purging still failed to find a proper use for them. Instead, it seemed like a more worthwhile venture to tackle the easy stuff, the pantry staples that have simply overgrown their allotted space. Prepared for either an unannounced party of 30 or the coming apocalypses, whichever comes first, there are plenty of perfectly good foods buried beneath the oddities, and it’s a shame to let them gather dust.

Taking out numerous canned goods and both dried beans and pasta in one dish, my Moroccan-inspired chickpea creation turned out to be the best thing I ate all week. Rather than merely an easy way to “take out the trash,” so to speak, and clear out the pantry, this was a genuinely delicious surprise. Spicy, but more warmly flavored and highly aromatic than merely hot, this is the kind of recipe that a well stocked pantry and spice drawer was made for. A study in contrasting flavors, the salty, briny olives pair beautifully with the gently acidic tomatoes, all blanketed in a thermal blanket of paprika, cumin, and coriander. In such a simple dish, the star players matter immensely, so make sure you have excellent green olives that can pull their weight in this jovial riot of flavors.

Moroccan-Style Olives and Chickpeas

1/4 Cup Olive Oil or Coconut Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Ginger
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Garlic
1 Tablespoon Ground Coriander
1 Tablespoon Ground Cumin
2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Hot Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes, with Juice
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
1 14-Ounce Can Whole, Pitted Green Olives, Drained and Rinsed
4 Cups Cooked Chickpeas
Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste

Zest of 1 Lemon
2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Parsley

Cooked Israeli Couscous, Regular Couscous, or Another Small Pasta or Grain, to Serve

Heat your oil of choice in a medium or large pot over moderate heat on the stove. Add the chopped onion, and saute gently for about 5 minutes to soften. Toss in the garlic and ginger next, and continue to cook, stirring periodically, until the onion begins to take on a light brown, somewhat caramelized color; around 10 minutes more. Next, incorporate all of the spices, from the coriander through cayenne, and stir well. Keep everything in the pot moving so that the spices don’t burn, and saute for an additional 5 minutes to toast and temper them.

Pour in the entire contents of the can of tomatoes, along with the vegetable stock, green olives, and chickpeas. Give it a good mix to distribute all of the ingredients throughout the stew. Turn down the heat to medium-low, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, to allow the chickpeas to take on all that spicy liquid and for the flavors to further meld. Add in a splash of water or additional stock if the liquid seems to evaporate too quickly.

Add salt and pepper to taste, but be careful with the salt- Olives bring a lot of sodium to the party already, so you shouldn’t need more than a pinch.

Serve over a bed of cooked couscous, and top each serving with a pinch of lemon zest and chopped parsley.

Serves 4 – 6

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In [Lemon] Mint Condition

Years ago, back when a trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house really was a trek through the woods, and quite a few miles, I would spend the long car ride anticipating all of the goodies to come. Nothing less than the perfect grandparents, they kept their home stocked with the foods that my young, underdeveloped palate adored, and often was denied in most circumstances. It was as if they went grocery shopping with just us kids in mind. Cabinets stacked high with dried pasta, we could have chosen a new shape each visit and still have never run out of new whimsical noodles to try. Candy dishes decorated every spare flat surface, and I recall on more than one occasion slipping away to “play piano” in order to get dibs on the mint chocolates stashed on the glossy wooden lid.

Best of all, though, was the spare fridge in the basement. That’s where the real treasure was hidden: the cookies.

Perhaps they had a penchant for buying in bulk, but it seemed as though there were never fewer than a half-dozen open packages to pick at. Eaten right away, with the refrigerator’s cool breath still clinging to them, chilling each morsel to the core, it was a unique experience that made even mundane, store-bought baked goods seem somehow special. My absolute favorites were the big, crisp cookies covered in so much powdered sugar that you couldn’t help but spray some of the white sweetness all over your clothes, and the surrounding furniture, as you ate. I never learned the name of those cookies and haven’t seen the exact ones since, but they sound a whole lot like the discontinued lemon coolers, a classic Girl Scouts offering.

With the annual Girl Scouts’ harassment in full-swing, these sweets immediately came to mind, and I couldn’t resist a little trip down memory lane. A bit more grown up than those original cookies, my version adds a bright splash of peppermint to the party, replicating that cooling sensation I enjoyed so much. For the full experience, you’ve simply got to store them in the fridge… Although considering how easy they are to eat, I can’t promise that will allow them to last any longer!

Lemon-Mint Cooler Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1 Lemon
2 – 4 Drops Peppermint Oil, or 1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoons Peppermint Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla

1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, thoroughly cream together the margarine and granulated sugar using the paddle attachment. Pause periodically to scrape down the side of the bowl as necessary. Once the mixture is homogeneous and fluffy, add in the lemon zest, peppermint, and salt, and mix to combine. Introduce the flour and baking soda next, starting the mixer on a slow speed until the flour is mostly incorporated, to prevent the dry goods from flying out and re-decorating the kitchen. Finally, add the lemon juice and vanilla. It may seem as though the mixture is too dry to come together, but be patient and keep mixing; it will eventually form cohesive dough. Resist the urge to add more liquid!

Scoop out walnut-sized balls and roll them between your palms to achieve smooth spheres. Place them at least 1-inch apart on your prepared baking sheets, and flatten them out slightly. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until the bottom edges just begin to brown. Carefully pull the cookie-topped silpats or baking sheets off of the hot sheet pans, and let rest for 5 minutes before tossing them in the confectioner’s sugar. Let cool completely before enjoying. Better yet, store them in the fridge for an even more cooling treat!

Makes 2 Dozen Cookies

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