BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Early Bird Special

Rumor has it that the May/June 2012 issue of VegNews has already been spotted in the wild, so I can’t wait a moment longer to share my photographic contributions. This particular volume has been dubbed the “media issue,” addressing the explosion of veganism in the public eye, but for me, as always, it was all about the food.

Beverly Lynn Bennett shares a fool-proof method for Chocolate Chia Pudding so delicious, you’ll renounce all things tapioca with one spoonful. Okay, so there’s room enough for both treats in a vegan’s life, but this healthy snack is a delightful (and healthier) change of pace. For everyone who became addicted to the stuff at Vegan Vida Con, here’s the magic formula to reinvent this wonder seed in a more chocolaty format.

Another simple yet sublime offering, Allison Rivers Samson pulls out another stunning replica of a typically non-vegan classic, this time being Caesar Salad. I’ll admit, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down at the idea of another leafy green salad, but this one packs in the flavor like none other. For such a basic combination of romaine, croutons, and vinaigrette, this Caesar really knocks it out of the park. I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that I chomped my way through the whole recipe’s worth after this shoot was done.

It seems as though those printing presses never stop rolling over there, which is a good thing! That means it’s almost time to embark yet again on the next set of tempting VegNews recipes, and I can’t wait to share another visual feast when they finally make it on paper, too.


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Don’t Pass Over Quinoa

The beauty (and exquisite torture) of many Jewish holidays like Passover is that they’re not just one-day affairs, but week-long “celebrations.” When those particular events carry dietary restrictions as well, it can add up to an extra load of work simply planning out a standard set of meals, beyond the mandated festive meal with family.

Serving dish provided by Steelite

While this offering of quinoa, a pseudo-grain that just barely escapes the label of kitniyot, may come a bit late for your seder, it will be a delicious respite from dry boards of matzo in the days to come. Gently caramelized and naturally sweet onions carry this dish of hearty cooked quinoa, roasted gold beets, and nutty toasted pistachios. Redolent of cumin and bright, fresh herbs, the flavors could be suitable for either a formal dinner or a spur of the moment picnic, easily enjoyed both hot and cold. Tender beets yield to a satisfying crunch of nuts, creating a textural harmony throughout. I used an attractive blend of white, black, and red quinoa from Trader Joe’s for added eye-appeal, but of course, any one color would taste just as good.

Pistachio-Quinoa Pilaf

2 Medium Gold Beets (About 2 Cups Diced)
1 Cup Uncooked Quinoa
2 Cups Water
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Medium Yellow Onion (About 1 1/4 Cups Chopped)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Pinch Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Parsley, Chopped
1 Tablespoon Packed Fresh Mint, Finely Minced
1/2 Cup Shelled and Toasted Pistachios

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and wrap your beets in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered. Place them in the oven, and allow them to bake, much like you would for a baked potato, for 60 – 75 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. When the beets are done, they should yield easily to a knife, if not be quite fork-tender. Let rest until cool enough to handle, and then peel and dice. Measure out 2 cups of diced beets, and set aside.

While the beets are roasting, you can save some time and get started on the quinoa. Bring the water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan, and then add in the dry quinoa. After the water returns to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for about 15 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed. Leave the quinoa covered and let rest for at least 15 additional minutes, so that it can steam a bit and fully hydrate. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and toss lightly with the chopped beets.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat, and add in the chopped onion. When it begins to sizzle lively, turn down the heat to medium-low or low, depending on how hot your stove runs. You want to cook the onions very gently so that they don’t brown around the edges and char, but slowly soften and caramelize. This process can take 30 – 40 minutes, so be patient, and continue to stir periodically. Add in the salt after the first 10 minutes, and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan thoroughly to prevent pieces from sticking and burning. The onions should take on an amber brown color and a become highly aromatic. Incorporate the balsamic vinegar and add the onions into quinoa mixture, along with the remaining tablespoon of oil.

Finally, sprinkle in all of the spices, chopped herbs, and pistachios right before serving. Stir well to distribute evenly. Serve either warm, or refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 5 days, and serve chilled.

Makes About 3 Main Dish Servings; 6 Side Dish Servings

Printable Recipe


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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

Printable Recipe


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Edible Sunshine

For once, spring has sprung up a bit early, and the long, sunny days are simply glorious. Mid-60’s, clear skies, little humidity; If only the weather could stay this perfect all year round! The bright sunshine illuminates all corners of the house, lifts the darkest of moods, and is so pervasive, it’s even made its way into my baking. Though the loaf stops short of being cooked via solar power, it tastes for all the world like a little bit of sunshine baked right into the bread.

A soft, golden yellow crumb clings to scores of crunchy sunflower seeds, periodically interrupted by the savory taste of sun-dried tomatoes. It would be hard to not feel just a little bit happier after toasting a slice for breakfast, or sandwiching two pieces with cucumbers and vegan cream cheese, or perhaps your favorite “BLT” fixings.

Sunshine Bread

3 – 4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 1/4-Ounce Package Active Dry Yeast
1 Teaspoon Turmeric
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
3 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Cup Carrot Juice
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Roasted and Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Sun-dried Tomatoes (Dry; Not Packed in Oil)

This dough is meant to sit and rise overnight (at least 8 hours) so that it can be baked in the morning. Plan your timing accordingly.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl) whisk together 3 cups of the flour, yeast, turmeric, and salt. Since the dough will sit for so long, there’s no need to proof it and jump-start the rising process. Just be sure that your yeast is very fresh, and indeed still active.

Separately, combine the agave, carrot juice, and melted margarine or coconut oil, and slowly pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry goods while stirring. Add in the sunflower seeds and chopped dried tomatoes, and mix to incorporate. Add more flour 1/4 cup at a time if needed, until the dough is cohesive and no longer sticky but still tacky. If using a stand mixer, switch over to the dough hook attachment, and let it kneed on low speed for 5 – 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic. This can also be done by hand on a lightly floured surface, but it will probably take closer to 10 – 12 minutes.

Lightly grease a large bowl, and plop your dough in, swirling it around gently to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap, and stash it in your fridge for at least 8 hours- Overnight is best.

In the morning, lightly grease an 8 x 4 loaf pan. Set aside.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for about 5 minutes to smooth it out and redistribute the bubbles created by the yeast. Flatten it out into a rectangle no longer than the loaf pan, and roll it up like you would one giant cinnamon roll. Place it into the pan with the seam side down, and with a very sharp knife, make a slash down center in a straight line. Let rise until just about doubled in volume; about 1 hour.

As the loaf nears the proper size, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. When ready, bake for for 45 – 50 minutes, until amber brown all over. If you’re unsure that it’s fully baked through, let it cool, and then tap the bottom of the loaf. It should sound hollow if properly done.

Let cool completely before slicing and savoring.

Makes 1 Loaf

Printable Recipe


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Proof of the Pudding

A sweet and simple snack, pudding instantly brings me back to my childhood with just one creamy spoonful. Though many different sorts of dishes can be called a pudding, including baked, savory ones, the pudding that first springs to my mind is the type cooked over the stove top, thickened with cornstarch, and enhanced with a touch of sugar. It’s also a treat that doesn’t appear often in my kitchen, for one reason or another. Perhaps it’s because the nostalgia remains in eating the pudding that magically would appear in the refrigerator, perfectly chilled and ready to savor. The idea of relentlessly whisking over a hot stove simply doesn’t share the same sort of happy memories.

Happily, WayFare Foods can allow all of us to remain kids at heart, no matter how far into adulthood we may have regrettably fallen, and still leave the work of pudding-making to the grown ups. Their new line of vegan puddings are remarkable for both what they’re made of, and what they’re not. Soy-free and gluten-free, they’re primarily composed of an innovative blend of millet, lima beans, rice, and oats. Better yet, you’d never guess your sweet pudding was ever made of such healthy ingredients! Not a hint of bean-like or cereal flavor gives away the secret, and I would feel perfectly confident offering these snacks to omnivores and picky children alike.

Offered in Vanilla, Chocolate, and Butterscotch flavors, each option was very straight-forward and uncomplicated in flavor, just like pudding aught to be. With a smooth, slightly sticky consistency, they were just rich enough to be satisfying, but still light on the palate. Well balanced between careful additions of sugar and salt, you could hardly go wrong with any of those flavors. Whereas the vanilla and chocolate are relatively mellow and easy to eat, be aware that the butterscotch is surprisingly strong in comparison, which may come as a positive or a negative aspect, depending on your preference.

The only real complaint I can come up with for these snack packs is that there’s no pudding skin for the old-fashioned pudding lover like myself. I suppose there are still some things that modern ready-made puddings can never replace.


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February, Quite Contrary

Writing about a month that’s nearly over and full of contradictions isn’t easy. Try as I might, on this bonus leap year day, I can’t find the words to sum it all up in one neat little package. Back in December, I thought I was being so clever when I prepared a batch of my favorite hearty, warming dishes, creating ample blog fodder for the brutal winter to come. Now I have a stock pile of main meals that are just a bit too rich for most days- Thank you very much, fickle Mother Nature. Still, inconsistent to the very end, there’s talk of snow in today’s forecast again today, so I’m seizing the opportunity to trot out a genuine belly-warmer while I still can.

It was something mentioned in an interview, an offhand comment that I forgot about as soon as I said it. A dish that I often would whip up for myself for a quick dinner, something easy to eat, and admittedly, almost embarrassing to spill the details about. You know those meals that you love but would never serve to anyone else? That was this curry. Although it was undeniably inspired by Sri Lankan curry, featuring cashews soaked for hours to lend them a uniquely creamy yet toothsome texture, I figured that people of more standard food preferences may find that approach a bit unappealing. Naturally, this was the comment that most readers picked up on and asked about, clamoring for a recipe. So here I am, sharing my secret semi-junky, completely inauthentic comfort food curry that was never intended to be shared in the spotlight. Lesson learned: Be careful what culinary sins you casually divulge on the internet.

Thankfully, it’s far from beyond saving, and a few small adaptions can make it more agreeable to pickier customers. Don’t soak the cashews to keep them crunchier, or swap them out altogether for beans to create a lighter dish. All the rest is pretty standard, but it’s gotten me out of a dinner jam more times than I can recall. When I think of comfort food, this recipe is high on my list.

Sri Lankan-Inspired Cashew Curry

1 1/2 Cups Whole, Raw Cashews*, Optionally Soaked for 2 Hours
1 Tablespoon Olive or Coconut Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 – 4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Minced
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock or Water
2 – 3 Tablespoons Madras Curry Powder
1 Large Sweet Potato or 2 Medium, Peeled and Chopped
2 Medium Zucchinis, Halved Lengthwise and Chopped
1 14-Ounce Can Light Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
2 Cups Frozen Peas
Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste

Cooked Rice, Quinoa, or Couscous to Serve (Optional)

*For a lower-fat (and lower-cost) alternative, substitute 2 – 3 cups cooked white kidney beans.

Rinse and thoroughly drain you cashews if soaking (or beans, if canned); Set aside.

In a large sauce pot over medium heat, warm the oil before adding in the diced onion. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and burning, until soften and translucent; about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and ginger, and continue to saute for 8 – 10 minutes longer, so that everything is very lightly caramelized and highly aromatic. De-glaze with the vegetable stock or water, being certain to scrape up any tasty brown bits that may be clinging to the bottom of the pot.

Follow that addition with the cashews or beans, curry powder (to taste- I find it’s very mild and go with 3 tablespoons, but if preparing this for children, they may prefer the lesser amount), sweet potatoes, zucchinis, coconut milk, and soy sauce. Stir well to incorporate, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender. Turn off the heat, and incorporate the peas, straight out of the freezer. No need to thaw, as they’ll immediately come up to temperature once they hit the hot curry. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately! (It does reheat beautifully though- Just save in an air-tight container once fully cooled, and bring it back up to a simmer on the stove when you’re ready to eat. Add more water if necessary to thin out the stew.)

Serves 4 – 5 Solo; 6 – 7 with a Grain Accompaniment

Printable Recipe


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The Kale Conundrum

Kale: The poster child for all things wholesome, healthy, and generally good. Once shunned as merely a frilly garnish for deli cases, no greater redemption story can be found in the produce aisle. Excellent both cooked and raw, agreeable with any flavors thrown at it, kale remains humble even after so much glowing praise has elevated it to super food status, willing to work with any supporting ingredients thrown at it. Joining the bandwagon like everyone else, I dutifully buy my kale, encouraged by those frilly, vibrant leaves, imagining a sea of recipes ideal for this fresh addition.

Out of the grocery bag back at home, it gingerly goes into the vegetable bin. A day later, heavier vegetables are moved around and get placed on top of the once firm stems, now quickly softening to imitate limp noodles. Another day passes, and surely I’ve forgotten I ever purchased such a thing; the tender green curls are crushed beneath a second load of re-sorted produce. Fast forward a week, and no doubt that same kale would still be there, beginning to yellow around the edges drooping like a neglected bouquet of flowers. Kale goes into the bin, and it’s time to go grocery shopping again. Oh, look at that kale, I should get some!

No more of this madness! I’ve had enough of throwing away perfectly good kale. My forgetfulness is inexplicable, but for some reason, kale just never seems to quite fit into what I’m making at the moment. Instead of repeating the same pattern yet again, I stopped the cycle halfway through, deciding that the only way out was to construct a new dish built around the greenery itself.

Typical kale pitfalls include: 1) Giant, uncut pieces that must be chewed for months to properly break down, 2) Overcooked, grey, and bitter leaves, and 3) Bland, boring and approaches simply too austere to genuinely enjoy. Shredding my raw kale finely and pairing it with bright, exciting flavors solved my last remaining scraps of hesitation with ease. Kelp noodles were sitting sadly at the bottom of the fridge, similarly forgotten, so I threw them in as well, but they turned out to be superfluous. With or without the noodles, I know this is one dish that will put the brakes on my poor kale-keeping habits.

A one-dish wonder that won’t weigh you down, this is a substantial salad that packs in edamame for protein, and plenty of good fats via avocado, pinenuts, and just a dab of olive oil. Above all else though, the invigorating lemon and ginger dressing makes it no chore to plow through a big bowlful of greens, no matter how remiss you’ve been on squeezing them into the daily diet before.

Crave-Worthy Kale Salad

Optional:
12 Ounce Package Kelp Noodles
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
Warm Water

1 Bunch Kale, Washed and Dried
3 Scallions
1 Cup Shelled Edamame
1 English Cucumber, Halved and Sliced
1 Ripe Avocado
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Big Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Salt to Taste
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts or Sunflower Seeds

If using kelp noodles, place them in a small bowl and add warm water to cover. Mix in the lemon juice and stir to combine. Let sit and soften for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the salad. Rinse and drain thoroughly before using.

Remove the large, woody stems from the kale, and then stack up the leaves on top of each other for easier slicing. Chop them into thin ribbons, and add them to a large bowl. Thinly slice the scallions, and toss those in along with the edamame and cucumber.  Dice the avocado and toss it with the lemon juice before introducing it to into the same bowl, along with any leftover juice. Finally whisk together the oil, mirin, lemon zest, ginger, cayenne, and salt, and pour the dressing over the greens. Toss everything very well to combine, and as well as the kelp noodles if using. Top each serving with pine nuts or sunflower seeds before serving.

Serves 4 – 6

Printable Recipe

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