BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Leftovers

The dust is finally beginning to settle after the final grueling round of edits for Vegan a la Mode, and I can breathe more easily once again. It may actually be done. Such a crazy thought, to consider that my third cookbook is on it’s way, possibly being printed as we speak. It sure didn’t happen overnight though; like most of my grand concepts, this one has been churning for a couple years now, before I even knew I wanted to do a book devoted solely to frozen treats. The gentle hum of the ice cream maker was my siren song, and I couldn’t stop dreaming up creamy concoctions even if I tried. It was a natural segue to turn those recipes into a book, where they could all live happily together. But like any process that drags on through months and months, evolving with the changing seasons and weathering different patterns of inspiration, there had to be some difficult cuts to make at the end of the line. As per usual, I had too many ideas, too many words, and not nearly enough pages to stretch my writerly legs.

Perfectly tasty ice creams had to be set aside to make the book work as a whole, and this Maple Nut Royale was one of them. Sandwiched between a maple-pecan number and a handful of other peanut-based confections, it simply made sense to pare back. It took the news with grace, but I could tell it was quite disappointed it wouldn’t see the pages of a published book after all. Leftover but still perfectly good, this creamy, nutty ice cream seemed like the perfect little teaser to share here instead. One of the earlier recipes I churned up, circa 2009, the photo may not be my best work, but I like to think that the deliciousness still shows all the same.

Maple-Nut Royale Ice Cream

3/4 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
2/3 Cup Maple Syrup
2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk*
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Toasted Pecans

*Almond milk is recommended to further the nutty theme, but any sort of non-dairy beverage, other than rice milk, will do.

Combine all of the ingredients, except for the pecans, in a medium saucepan until smooth. You can bring things together more easily in a blender, but it should smooth out with a sturdy whisk and just a bit of elbow grease, too. Set the saucepan over medium heat on the stove, and continue to whisk gently, scraping the bottom and sides as you go, to prevent the mixture from sticking and burning.

Cook until the liquid comes to a boil and has thickened significantly; bubbles should break slowly but regularly on the surface. Turn off the heat, and let cool to room temperature before chilling thoroughly in the fridge. Allow at least 2 – 3 hours for the mixture to come down to a cooler temperature.

Once chilled, churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In the final 5 minutes of churning, add in the chopped pecans, and allow the moving paddle to incorporate them into the soft ice cream. Transfer to an air-tight container, and stash in the freezer for at least 3 hours to further harden before scooping and serving.

Makes About 1 Quart

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Tasty Takeout at Home

There’s a lot to be said for ready-made frozen meals, even for the avid cook and fresh food fanatic. Having a plan B safely squirreled away, just in case of a dinner emergency, can make the difference between choking down impossibly tough seitan burgers or enjoying something a bit more edible. Well aware of a certain bias against most prepared foods, I will go on the record to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with the classic tv dinner every now and then; it’s the ingredients and the over-processing where these easy options frequently go wrong. Homemade frozen meals of leftovers are fantastic, and the only difference is that you’re still the one doing the legwork to put that food on the table. For the overworked mom, student, busy professional, or anyone who doesn’t spend all of their waking hours in the kitchen, a warm, relatively healthy meal that can be on the table in five minutes or less can be downright miraculous. The key is choosing the right brands to pledge your dinner allegiance to.

New on my radar but hardly newcomers to the freezer aisle, Vegetarian Plus has been cranking out the meatless frozen meals for years now, providing vegan options directly to consumers and to larger institutions that wish to feed them. Featuring easily accessible flavors for even the pickiest palates, while still covering a whole world of exotic cuisines, they’re excellent for serving to a crowd with varied tastes.

Plate provided by Steelite

Take for example, their latest offerings of Indian-inspired entrees. Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala, looking for all the world like curried poultry, rather than its actual soybean fiber and wheat protein construction. Redolent of warm spices and a certain savory scent, the flavor is shockingly on par with some of the better takeout I’ve had. Initially sweet but switching over to spicy in seconds, the spice profile is impressively well-balanced, and on the spicier side for a mainstream meal. Nothing to burn a hole through your tongue, for sure, but lively in flavor and fairly true to its title. I would absolutely purchase this again in the future, and anyone who appreciates Indian food should take a chance on it too.

Defrosting a package of Vegan Lamb Vindaloo on another hungry and somewhat desperate evening, I had no clue what to expect. I’ve never eaten lamb, so I can’t say with any authority how authentic those protein chunks were, but I can tell you that the texture seemed chewier, perhaps gamier as far as imitation meat goes, and more similar to seitan than the previous offering. Somehow the flavor struck me as less rich, and a bit lacking in body compared to the first amazing meal, but rest assured, I had no problem cleaning my plate. Unarguably spicier, those craving a meaty meal with some bite to it would no doubt enjoy this.

Craving greasy but oh so good Chinese takeout? Vegetarian Plus has got you covered there, too. Their Vegan Kung Pao Chicken tastes as though it could have just as easily come from a cardboard carry-out box as your own freezer. Not just an homage to the idea of kung pao, this version goes the whole nine yards; coated in the same shiny, vaguely sticky, semi-sweet and generously salted sauce, it coats the palate richly, perfectly scratching that itch for something a bit indulgent. As “authentic” as American Chinese food goes, this is exactly what I remember chowing down on as a picky omnivore ages ago. Accented by a decent kick of heat, it manages to avoid descending down the sad path of bland Americanized ethnic food, so it may even have a leg up on the competition.

I must admit that what I was most intrigued by, however, was not the offering of a completely ready made and defrostable dinner, but the possibilities presented by their Vegan Shrimp. Packaged with a sweet chili sauce that I didn’t particularly enjoy, the “shrimp” needed only a bit of love to become something even better. Genuinely fishy, they both looked and smelled the part. Sure, the mere concept may sound dubious at best, but they don’t deserve the harsh judgement they’ve so often received. Bouncy between the teeth and relatively bland unadorned, the flavor strikes me as being very similar to the somewhat controversial shirataki noodles. Either you love them or you hate them, so the same could probably be said for these “shrimp.”


Plate provided by Steelite

Lightly pan-fried in a generous dose of garlic I dressed up my imitation crustaceans as a riff on shrimp and grits. Rather than making grits from dried cornmeal, my version is more like a cross between polenta and creamed corn, utilizing fresh, coarsely pureed corn for a brighter, lighter flavor. You certainly don’t need fake shrimp to enjoy it though; a bit of crispy tofu on top would be just as good, if slightly less convenient for the harried cook.

Fresh Corn Grits

1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine, or Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Shallot or 1/2 Small Yellow Onion
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
3 Cups Fresh or Frozen Sweet Corn, Thawed
3/4 – 1 Cup Unsweetened, Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
Salt + Pepper

Melt your margarine or coconut oil in a saute pan over medium heat, and swirl in the olive oil. Add the shallot and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Incorporate the agave and continue to saute for 10 – 15 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Toss in the corn next, and allow about 5 – 10 more minutes on the flame to soften the corn and enhance its sweeter flavors.

Transfer everything into your blender or food processor, along with 3/4 cup of the non-dairy milk and nutritional yeast, and plus lightly until the mixture is creamy, but still has a good bit of texture to it. Drizzle in more non-dairy milk if needed, to reach your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If preparing the “grits” in advance, add more non-dairy milk when reheating, because it thickens significantly as it sits.

Serves 3 – 4 as a Side Dish

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Hello, Beautiful

Glowing brightly like a cool, colorful homing beacon, the modest Ciao Bella kiosk in Grand Central Station would taunt me every time I arrived in New York City, straight off of a hot and sweaty ninety-minute train ride. Every flavor always appeared to be artfully arranged in its metal pan, carefully swirled and smoothed into undulating waves of frozen dessert. The heat must have always thoroughly fried my brain by that point though, as I never looked closely enough to see that there was in fact much more than the rich dairy-based gelato that the brand is so well known for. Sorbet, a mainstream godsend for the lactose intolerant, populates those immaculate cases in nearly equal numbers.

The best news of all, though, is twofold; that just recently, Ciao Bella has decided to go au naturel and dump the corn syrup and refined sugar, and that this very sorbet can be found in the freezer cases of most mainstream grocery stores, instead of just behind ice cream shop counters.

Boasting 12 different varieties of sorbet that any vegan would delight in, choosing a limited selection to sample was a tricky task. Noted as their best selling sorbet, their Blood Orange was the one clear pick. Peachy orange in color without much apparent aroma, this was clearly not your typical orange offering. Sweet and fruity, with subtle floral notes, the citrus flavor was still bright and clear, but not at all sharp or aggressive. Mellow, well-rounded, and highly refreshing, it strikes me as a summer snack that children and adults of all ages could enjoy alike. Super smooth, without the slightest hint of ice crystals, it scoops like a dream, too.

Wanting to try a more diverse lineup, but unable to fight off my rampant cravings for tangy citrus treats, I found myself drawn back, time and again, to the beckoning pint of Lemon sorbet on the frost-encrusted supermarket shelves. Hitting all the zesty high notes I could hope for, this was one intense, vibrant lemon experience! Like the Italian ice of my childhood all grown up, the ultra-smooth texture was practically creamy, but completely weightless without the cloying richness of premium ice cream. Also perfect as a palate cleanser between a multi-course meal, this sorbet didn’t stick around long after it made it into my home.

Most alluring of all, however, is Ciao Bella’s latest sorbet creation; Their sorbet bars, available in both their flagship Blood Orange flavor and brand new to the line up, Blueberry Passion. Swirled throughout with contrasting colors of deep violet and pale orange, each bite unexpectedly consistent in flavor. A tropical, unidentifiable flavor hits me immediately, and I recognize that this must be the passion fruit element. Not as well acquainted with this primarily South American, it provided an unexpected exotic element, reminiscent of a vacation on the beach. The sweet and simple blueberry flavor kept things comforting, making for a well balanced combination of both exciting and familiar tastes.

For the avid home cook or DIY-er, fret not; Ciao Bella has even come out with a cookbook, The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto, divulging their secret formulas for every flavor in the lineup, including exotics not available in hard-pack pints. Although most intriguingly, this provides otherwise impossible opportunities to veganize Ciao Bella’s gelatos, I was still drawn to the simplicity of the sorbet section. Besides, with a chocolate sorbet with such an intense, and complex depth of flavor, I don’t think I need the gelato version at all! Scooping soft and easily straight out of the freezer, just like the store-bought options, it seemed completely consistent with the quality of their factory-made frozen desserts.

I’m grateful that the folks at Ciao Bella were kind enough to provide me with a taste of their vegan offerings.  Next time, whether purchasing a single scoop from a Ciao Bella kiosk, grabbing a pint at the store for an impromptu indulgence, or crafting my own version at home, I know I’ll be in for a treat.

Chocolate Sorbetto
Reprinted with permission from The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto

3 Cups Water
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
4 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate (About 60% Cacao), Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Dark Rum
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

In a medium saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, whisking often to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 4 minutes, continuing to whisk until all the sugar is dissolved.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped chocolate; whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Add the rum and vanilla, then pour though a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Let cool, stirring often. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.

Printable Recipe


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Age is Just a Number

Aside from the benign lumps and gently clouding eyes, my darling puppy really isn’t showing her age, and is greeting the oncoming years [for the most part] with grace, just as any mature woman should. If you ask me, she doesn’t look a day older than 8. One would never guess that my little sweetheart has just turned 14 years old a few days ago!

Can you believe it? Supposedly, that’s 98 in dog years; Quite the milestone, indeed. While I would have loved nothing more than to make a big to-do about the event, and fuss over some elaborate treat for the birthday girl, that was simply not in the cards this time around. Between the book release, final exams, and a couple new projects still up my sleeve, it’s been challenging just tending to Isis’s everyday needs (such as letting her outside and then inside 50 times straight, refilling her water dish, and repeating that cycle over and over until the sun goes down.) However, I couldn’t let the day pass without some sort of special snack…

Think of a popsicle without a stick, made especially for the canine palate, and you’d have the Pup-sicle! Peanut butter-flavored, with a sprinkle of ground flax seeds for nutrition, this is one chilly treat that will be even more of a hit in the hot summer months. I can’t share the recipe just yet, as it has something to do with one of those upcoming projects I mentioned… So stay tuned for more details!

Ever cautious, Isis took a few preliminary licks when presented with this birthday gift…

…And quickly deeming the frozen biscuit not only edible, but highly tasty, she happily wolfed it down in a few large bites.

Happy Birthday, Isis- We’ll just have to celebrate the next one twice as much!


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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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