BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Monstrous Munchies

Halloween is right around the corner, but if you haven’t yet figured out your snacking strategy for when the moon rises and the creatures of the night emerge, don’t panic! Rather than reaching for a protective head of garlic, I say go for the sweets and invite those monsters right on in. They’ll feel perfectly at home when you present them with a heaping bowlful of gloriously green Matcha Monster Munch.

Candied green tea popcorn, tossed with crunchy pepitas and drenched in a generous drizzle of dark chocolate is a treat to tempt even the most distasteful beasts. Perfect for a party or just a quiet night of answering the doorbell for trick-or-treaters, it’s a snack that’s as irresistible as it is vibrant.

Quick, jump on your broomstick and fly over to the recipe on Go Dairy Free, before the witching hour is over!


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Scare Up Some Berry Good Sweets

BOO!

Okay, so I’m not the most fearsome creature you’ll meet this Halloween, but I do have a terrible tale that should strike fear in the heart of any sensible human being. I may be sugar-coated, but this story is not. Just imagine: A world that progressively grows colder, harsher, inhospitable to life itself. The ground freezes solid, impenetrable as steel, strangling off all the plant roots and shoots within. Nary a weed can grow, let alone the delicate and highly perishable foodstuffs we’ve come to depend on. Sun shines but thermometers remain unmoved, staunchly refusing to thaw. As a result of the harsh shift in climate, there are no more blueberries; not here, not anywhere.

Positively terrifying, right? Mercifully, that tragedy is only based on real life, more fiction than fact. Though we are swiftly moving past the prime growing season with winter soon to come, there’s no end in sight to the supply of Frozen Wild Blueberries. Whether it’s 100 degrees or -10 degrees outside, they’ll still be waiting for happy homes and hungry mouths, just as plump, ripe, and sweet as ever in the freezer aisle. That consistency and predictably high quality standards make them the ideal addition to any fruit candy formula, demanding precision to turn out.

That’s where my batty family and I come into the picture. Try finding decent fresh berries now and you’d be straight out of luck, yielding nothing but bland blue marbles unsuitable for consumption. Spare yourself the horror and hit the chill chest instead, where Wild Frozen Blueberries remain every bit as flavorful and vital all year round. By introducing such a powerful superfood, touted for its antioxidants and nutrients the world over, you can reason that indulging in a sweet wild blueberry pate de fruit instead of any commercial candy out there is by far a lesser evil.

I don’t mind if you or your little goblins are clamoring to take a bite out of me- I’m completely irresistible, after all! My crunchy sugared exterior gives way to a soft, jam-like center, each bite a balance of bold, fruity sweetness. Mysterious and dark, black cocoa contributes to my fetching hue while adding a rich, smoky, earthy sort of flavor. Blend that with a tiny pinch of cinnamon and a splash of lime for an unexpected, yet completely complementary twist, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t scare up some sweet treats out of Frozen Wild Blueberries sooner.

Boo-Berry Bats

2 1/2 Cups Frozen Wild Blueberries, Thawed
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/4 Cup Black Cocoa Powder
3 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
2 (3-Ounce) Packages Liquid Pectin

About 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar, to Coat

Place both the Wild Blueberries and applesauce in your blender or food processor, and thoroughly puree.  Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl every now and then, until the mixture is completely smooth. Add in the cocoa powder and blend briefly to combine.

Transfer the puree into a medium pot with high sides, along with sugar, lime juice, and cinnamon.  Though it may seem like a lot of sugar, don’t forget that this is candy we’re talking about, and the pectin requires a certain amount of sugar to set properly.  Whatever you do, do not attempt to reduce the amount or swap it for a different sweetener!

Stir well and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. While that comes up to temperature, line a 9 × 9–inch square baking pan and lightly grease it in preparation for the finished candy.

Once boiling, add in the pectin, mix thoroughly to incorporate, and stir while the mixture boils for a full 10 minutes.  Continue scraping the bottom and sides of the pot with your spatula to make sure that nothing is sticking and burning.  Remove from the heat and pour the liquid candy into your prepared pan.  Allow that to come to room temperature before moving the pan into the fridge.  Let chill until set, at least 2–3 hours, before cutting into bat shapes using a small cookie cutter.

Toss the bats in granulated sugar and store in an airtight container. Kept away from moisture and in a cool place, the bats should last for 1 – 2 weeks, if they aren’t devoured before then.

Makes about 35 – 40 (2-Inch Long) Bats

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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You Don’t Know Jack-o-Lantern

Once the highlight of every autumn, Halloween has begun to lose its charm. Once an opportunity to escape into an alternate persona, collect hordes of sweet treats, and explore new neighborhoods filled with bright lights and wild decorations, now it’s little more than a note on a calender page. Much of that has to do with simply growing older no doubt, an unfortunate side effect of becoming too mature or too serious. More than that, however, the great prize at the end of the journey holds little allure now. Artificially flavored, colored, and pumped full of unsavory fillers, not to mention the sad prevalence of animal products in mainstream options, the whole song and dance seems somehow hollow without that great candy climax to look forward to. For someone with an active and voracious sweet tooth to reject free candy has got to say something.

Rest assured, not all candy has lost its appeal. The homemade, hand-crafted stuff is in a category of its own, especially since it’s the sort that no parent would allow their child to take on a trick-or-treat outing. Ironic that the mass-produced junk would be considered a safer, better option. Fine by me though, because that only means I get to horde more of the choice picks for myself, such as these lightly spiced pumpkin pâte de fruits. Gummy candies all grown up, these seasonal treats are perfect for the entire autumn season, not just the standard Halloween sugar high.

Soft yet toothsome, the crunch of sugar coating the outside gives way to smooth pumpkin jelly, tinged with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. A hint of molasses adds depth, contrasted by a bright splash of cider vinegar. Unlike so many other “pumpkin spice” novelties, these edible orange jewels genuinely taste like the gourd of their namesake.

Pumpkin Pâte de Fruits

1/4 Cup Solid-Packed (Canned) Pumpkin Puree
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Juice*
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Molasses
2 Cups Granulated Sugar, Plus Extra to Coat
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1 3-Ounce Package Liquid Pectin

*I ran about 1/4 of a medium-sized sugar pumpkin, gutted, peeled, and sliced into 1-inch strips, through my juicer to yield around 1 cup of pumpkin juice. If you don’t have a juicer, don’t fret! You can also chop up the raw pumpkin into piece, toss them into a food processor or blender, and thoroughly puree. Strain from a very fine-meshed sieve or nut milk bag, and save the solid pulp for another use. It’s great for making crackers or dog treats!

Line a 4 x 8-inch loaf pan with aluminum foil, and lightly grease; Set aside.

Place the pumpkin puree, pumpkin juice, cider vinegar, molasses, sugar, and all the spices in a medium saucepan, stirring to combine. From this point forward though, keep that spatula out of the pot until the very end, lest you create nasty sugar crystals while the candy is forming. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, gently swirling the pot periodically, until the mixture reaches 238 degrees (soft ball stage.) At last, pour in the pectin, and stir briefly to incorporate. Continue cooking at a steady boil 2 minutes longer.

Transfer the hot, liquid candy into your prepared pan, and let sit at room temperature until completely cool. It should be solid enough to pull out of the pan at this point, using the foil as a sling. Use a very sharp knife, lightly coated in oil, to slice the rectangle into small, two-bite squares. Toss the squares in additional granulated sugar to coat, and store in an air-tight container at room temperature. The candies will last for about 1 week… If you can keep the ghouls and goblins away!

Printable Recipe


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Beyond Tricks and Treats

Come November 1st, a nationwide tummy ache is pretty much the norm, stomachs still riotous with the undue stress of containing more Halloween candy than is advisable to eat in even two or three sittings. Something about the festivities just gets under the skin, the holiday itself being a grand excuse to go crazy and overdo the sugar. Common sense be damned, it’s the same pattern every year, from young to young at heart feeling the aftereffects of this particularly sweet evening. Awareness of such consequences still does little to dissuade me from indulging perhaps more than is advisable, but it does make me keenly aware of everything else fueling me that day. Without a solid foundation of whole grains and protein beforehand, the inevitable sugar crash would be a very ugly scene indeed.

That doesn’t mean those healthier options must be austere and dull, though! Black and orange to match the “traditional” colors of Halloween, this dish is a touch spicy too, enhanced with a slightly devilish addition of paprika and red pepper flakes. Toothsome wild rice makes it a stellar sort of pilaf, but it can also be an easy, no-muss main dish as well, thanks to the protein-packed black beans.

Even if you do plan on loading up on the sweet stuff, as I do, start the day out right with something a bit healthier first. There’s no need for the candy hangover the following morning!

Halloween Rice

2 Cups Uncooked Wild Rice

3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1 Small Yellow Onion, Chopped
3 Large Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Black Mustard Seeds
1/2 – 1 Small Chili Pepper, Finely Minced, or 1/4 – 3/4 Teaspoon Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Teaspoon Hot Paprika
4 Ounces (About 4 Large) Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Mirin
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 Pounds Peeled and Diced Sweet Potatoes (About 3 Cups)
1 14-Ounce Can (1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Black Beans, Rinsed and Drained
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, or to Taste

The most time-consuming part of this recipe is simply cooking the rice, so it’s best to get that out of the way early. Heat about 2 quarts of water in a medium-sized stock pot, and bring to a boil. Add the wild rice, reduce the heat slightly, and simmer at a brisk bubble for 45 – 60 minutes, until the grains are beginning to split and are tender enough to eat. Now, just like pasta, drain out the excess water, and set side the cooked rice. The rice can be made a day or two in advance, as long as it’s stored in an air-tight container in the fridge.

In the same stock pot (or one larger) melt the coconut oil and coat the bottom of the pot with it before tossing in the chopped onion. Saute over medium heat until softened and translucent; about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic, and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until everything is starting to take on an amber hue around the edges. Stir in the mustard seeds, pepper or pepper flakes, paprika, and chopped mushrooms, stirring frequently and cooking for an additional 3 – 5 minutes, until the mushroom has reduced in size and the spices are aromatic.

To prevent burning, quickly add in the stock, mirin, and vinegar, stir well, and follow with the chunks of sweet potato. The liquid won’t completely cover everything, so don’t panic. Turn down the heat to a steady simmer, cover loosely with the lid, and keep stirring the mixture every few minutes, until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender. This could take anywhere from 20 – 30 minutes, so be patient. The excess liquid should be mostly if not completely evaporated by now.

Mix in the cooked wild rice, cook over low heat for a few minutes to re-warm, and season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves 8 – 12 as a Side; 4 – 6 as a Main

Printable Recipe


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Perfect Pumpkins

Is it just another nasty side effect of growing older, or are pumpkin patches slowly losing their luster? No longer the exciting field trip out into an amber- and golden-hued land, far from reality, where the gourds sit proudly in tangled and vine-covered rows, but a meager errand. Hay rides serve only to incite a maddening barrage of sneezes and itches, and most disconcerting, the pumpkin selection is nothing to raise an eyebrow at. Small to medium orange orbs of approximate roundness, more often than not, scarred with moldy spots, contagious-looking warts, or odd concave surfaces, most are not suited to carving even on a good day. Pick out something adequate in the pumpkin patch, only to discover the thickest inner walls ever created out of squash, or worse yet, empty seed pods that are no good for roasting. So many stumbling blocks, so few “perfect” pumpkins.

Dead-set on ending this cycle of disappointment once and for all, I set off to a brand new pumpkin patch this year in search of something better. Would you believe it, I found gourds there so impossibly ideal, it was a downright magical discovery. Flawlessly shaped, smooth, and glittering in the sunlight, I could overlook their diminutive size in favor of their other advantages. Cracking one open straight away to investigate the seed situation, the reality of what filled those thing shells was far sweeter…

Pumpkin candy! Forget those truly scary mass-produced sweets for Halloween and try making easy treats like these. Taking a page from my Shamrock Patties, these festive treats do indeed have real pumpkin in them, along with bright, pie-inspired spices. Should you get a hold of edible ink markers, you could even dress them up as jack-0-lanterns, complete with uniquely cute or creepy faces.

Turns out that the elusive perfect pumpkin may actually exist… In candy form, at least!

Pumpkin Patties

Patties:

1/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree
1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine, at Room Temperature
3 – 4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
Pinch Salt

Candy Coating:

1/4 Cup (2 Ounces) Food-Grade Cocoa Butter
1/4 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Tomato Powder (Optional, for Color)
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric (Optional, for Color)
Pinch Ground Cinnamon

Orange Colored Sugar, if Desired

Place your pumpkin puree in the bowl of your food processor fitted with the paddle attachment, or in your food processor. Add the margarine and cream the two together until smooth. Incorporate 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar to start, along with the vanilla, spices, and salt. Start on a slow speed, or pulse to combine. The mixture will likely look like thick icing at this point, so add in another cup of confectioner’s sugar, and once again mix on low. You’re looking for it to become the consistency of soft cookie dough; malleable, but not gooey or drippy. If it still seems to be too loose, mix in up to an additional cup of the sugar, as needed.

Turn the pumpkin candy out onto a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and gently flatten it out to about 1/4 – 1/2 inch in thickness. To prevent sticking, either sprinkle on a very light dusting of confectioner’s sugar, or top it with a second silpat or sheet of parchment before taking the rolling pin to it. Stash your candy disk in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

Once chilled, pull out a small pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter approximately 1-inch wide. Lay out a second silpat or piece of parchment on top of a baking sheet. Cut out your pumpkins, and transfer them to the prepared sheet. Gather up the candy scraps, re-roll, and cut again, until you’ve used all of the dough. Should the dough become too soft and finicky to work with, just toss it back in the fridge for another 15 – 30 minutes, and try once more. Now, stash the whole sheet of cut centers in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before getting to work on the coating.

Place your cocoa butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 – 3 minutes, so that it completely liquefies. Meanwhile, mix together the remaining ingredients for the coating in a small dish, making sure that they’re thoroughly combined and that there are no clumps. Once the cocoa butter is melted, whisk in the dry ingredients, stirring vigorously to make sure that everything is completely dissolved into the liquified fat.

Pull out your semi-frozen candy centers, and dip each into the coating, one at a time, letting the excess drip off. Place them back on the silpat, and watch the coating set up right before your eyes. This top coat is thinner than regular chocolate, so you may wish to double-dip once the first layer has solidified. If using, quickly sprinkle the decorative sugar over the dipped patties as soon as you set them down.

Make 3 – 4 Dozen Patties

Printable Recipe

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