BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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.

Printable Recipe

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