BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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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Clean Start

Synonymous with new beginnings and self improvement, there could hardly be a better time than the New Year to investigate a book like Clean Start, by Terry Walters. A sequel to the original Clean Food, Clean Start might be more accurately be considered the prequel to the series, as it attempts to break down the basics in terms simple enough for the most uninitiated of cooks. Organized seasonally, the emphasis is placed on beginning with quality ingredients, and then doing your best not to ruin their natural flavor and vigor in the process of cooking. Terry would never state such a mission outright, though; Guiding readers with gentle, non-judgmental words, it’s all about doing the best you can with your time and skills, to ultimately arrive at a healthier destination. Peppered with glorious color photos throughout, the images really bring the recipes to life, making them seem appear much greater than the sum of their ingredients.

Skipping ahead to the “fall” section, I couldn’t resist the Carrot Cashew Miso Spread (page 90). A popular pick, this is a recipe I had been hearing raves about since before I owned a copy of the book. Combining a mere four ingredients, I had to see what all the hype could be about. Surprisingly sweet, owing to the natural sugars of the carrots, for lack of a better description, it has an undeniably “clean” flavor. Even more satisfying than the usual hummus, the cashews add heft that give it real staying power; an ideal snack for a demanding day. With an excellent hit of salt from the miso, this humble spread really does live up to expectations.

Flipping back a few pages to summer, the Cucumber Mint Salad (page 64) was calling my name. Despite feeling odd chopping up a big bowl of cucumbers mid-January, I can easily see how this would be the ideal dish at a warm, sunny picnic a few months down the road. Cool, light, and refreshing, it’s so simple that it’s more of an idea than a recipe, but that’s also the beauty of the dish. Allowing the cucumbers to shine, accented with complimentary dill and mint, this preparation would make for a fantastic pairing to any heavier main dish.

Returning to autumnal ideas, Ginger Shiitake Soup with Cabbage and Edamame Beans (page 98), hardly takes all of 15 minutes to pull together, but bursts with complex flavor in every spoonful. Admittedly, I reduced the amount of water significantly (down to 5 cups rather than 8) which would undoubtedly concentrate flavors, but I prefer a soup packed with goodies, and certainly nothing watery. Shiitake mushrooms take the stage, lending powerfully rich, savory undertones throughout. Every component is remarkably well balanced – A theme repeated throughout each recipe on trial. Move over “chicken” noodle soup: This newcomer might be the new go-to sick day soup around here.

Buttercup Squash with Quinoa, Apricot and Sage Stuffing (page 152) may be a mouthful of a title, but it’s hardly more complex than preheating on the oven while simultaneously bringing water to a boil. A celebratory dish if I ever saw one, one of these golden squashes would be right at home as part of any holiday spread. Though buttercup squashes evaded my grasp, acorn filled the void quite nicely, and next time I’ll have to take Terry’s suggestion of a delicata substitution. Working to reduce food prejudices, I embraced the addition of dried apricots in this savory application- Diced very, very finely, of course. Happily, the cheerful orange fruits melded in seamlessly, indiscernible from the rest of the stuffing. Tasting instantly like the holidays thanks to the sage, I only wish there was a bit more texture throughout. Almonds add delightful crunch on top, but it becomes a bit of a mushy drudge to eat through all of the center stuffing. An easy issue to remedy with nuts mixed into all of the quinoa instead, I would have no quibbles serving this at a festive gathering, or a quiet night at home.

Some of the “recipes” in Clean Start struck me more as just common sense, such concepts make this a perfectly approachable entry to the newbie cook, seeking healthy options. Lest that sounds like criticism, it bears repeating that every recipe I sampled reveled in that simplicity, carefully calibrated to keep all components in balance. In other words, don’t expect haute cuisine, innovative techniques, or unconventional flavor pairings to leap forth from these pages. Simplicity rules, especially for the home cook seeking painless recipes to add to their everyday repertoire.


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Sophisticated Solo Snacking

Holiday season firmly behind us, the time of endless parties and merriment may have passed, but even as we enter the frigid month of January, I’m unwilling to fully surrender to that immense shift. Winter hibernation beckons invitingly, yet the inertia of both work and play pulls me forward, with little conscious decision on my part. Once the wheels start spinning, they can’t simply stop at the drop of a hat, much like my restless mind that continues to churn away. Always coming up with the perfect come-back hours or days too late, it’s the same phenomenon that provides inspiration for recipes that would have been ideal for occasions that have already come to pass.

Thankfully, a raucous celebration is not required to enjoy a slightly more sophisticated snack than the norm, and it’s probably recommended that you enjoy such a savory treat far from the maddening crowds. Bringing together the nutty, toasted notes of hazelnut with herbaceous rosemary, these simple crackers are perhaps more addictive than such a small batch should allow. Horde them if you must, because I guaranteed they’ll fly fast if served to company.

Despite the wild success of such a simple crunchy snack, it’s hard to eat many dry crackers plain. Crackers are always accompanied by dip in the best of circumstances, complimenting and contrasting the crisp texture. Inspired by the tried-and-true beet marmalade we serve at Health in a Hurry, I whipped up a golden version to serve on the side. A bit more like a chutney than a spread, the sweetness of caramelized onions and apple cider mellow the earthy flavors of gold beet in a mild but flavorful harmony. Lest that fools you into thinking this is one boring accompaniment, don’t forget about the surprising kick of cayenne that sneaks up out of the blue, rounding things out nicely.

It’s for the best that we move away from the relentless holiday demands. A few quiet nights at home with more intimate parties of one or two, with a nice, carefully assembled snack platter sound much more appealing anyhow.

Hazelnut-Rosemary Crackers

1 Cup Raw Hazelnuts
1/4 Cup Whole Flax Seeds, Ground
1/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Black Sesame Seeds (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees, and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Pulse the hazelnuts in your food processor until ground down to a fine meal, with as few coarse chunks as possible. It’s helpful to start with frozen nuts for the best texture, to prevent them from warming up and turning to nut butter. If they threaten to cross that line, just pause and move the bowl of the food processor into the fridge to cool down before proceeding.

Grind the flax seeds down to a powder separately, in a coffee or spice grinder. Add the flax meal to the food processor, along with all of the remaining ingredients except for the sesame seeds. Pulse to combine. Once smooth, transfer the mixture to your prepared baking sheet, and use lightly moistened hands to flatten it out slightly. Top with a second silpat or parchment paper, and roll out to about 1/8th of an inch in thickness. This second sheet will help prevent the “dough” from sticking to your rolling pin, without the need for added flour.

Score the sheet of soft cracker dough into equal rectangles or diamonds, and lightly sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired. Press the seeds in gently with the palm of your hand to ensure that they stick. Bake for a total of 80 minutes, rotating the baking sheet every 20 minutes to ensure even browning. Let cool completely (they will continue to crisp as they cool) and then break along the scored lines. Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.

If you’d prefer a raw snack, simply spread the mixture on a teflex or other non-stick sheet instead, and dehydrate until crisp. Your mileage/timing may vary.

Yield varies depending on size and shape of your crackers, but makes approximately about 4 servings.

Gold Beet Marmalade

1 Pound Gold (Yellow) Beets
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Small Red Onion, Diced
1/3 Cup Apple Cider or Unfiltered Apple Juice
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste

First things first, roast the beets: Wrap your beets in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered in a neat little pouch, and place them on a baking sheet to catch any potential drips. Cook in an oven preheated to 450 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes, until fork tender. Let rest until they’re cool enough to peel.

Meanwhile, heat up the oil in a medium skillet on the stove, over medium-low heat. Introduce the diced onion and stir frequently, until soften, not browned, and a golden caramel color. This will take anywhere from 15 – 30 minutes, so keep a close eye on the pan. Turn off the heat and let cool.

Introduce both the peeled beets (cut down to slightly more manageable chunks if they were huge roots to begin with) and the caramelized onions in the food processor, along with the remaining ingredients. Pulse to combine, until the beets are broken down to very small, coarse pieces, but not pureed into a smooth spread. Though the marmalade is best if allowed to chill and mellow for at least an hour, it’s perfectly tasty eaten right away.

Makes 2 – 3 Cups Marmalade

Printable Recipe


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Smooth as Silk Pie

Any given morning can effortlessly and instantly descend into all-out chaos. The relentless push to check more to-do’s off my never ending list growing stronger as the clock ticks away the hours, it can take quite a feat to stop me in my tracks. Despite the monstrous bulk of the bright white carton plunked on the door step not too long ago, had it not been placed squarely in my path, blocking re-entry into the house after one of many grocery runs, I can’t promise I would have found it that same day.

Wrestling the cardboard box inside with precisely zero grace, fumbling to cut through the tape, and finally managing to wedge the styrofoam cooler out, an embarrassment of riches awaited me. Vegan Greek-style coconut yogurt, in plain and vanilla, in great quantity. Enough to eat, and bake with; An impressive number, knowing my appetite for the flavored varieties already.

For a hectic day, a simple yet satisfying dessert was in order. Chocolate pie, ready in a flash, and healthy enough to justify one generous, large wedge per person. Inspired by the wholly decadent French silk pie, this is a less sweet, less rich, and far less guilt-inducing version that you could possibly get away with eating for breakfast. At least I hope so, because that’s what I did.

Greek Silk Pie

1 9-Inch Pie Crust, Homemade or Store-Bought, Blind-Baked and Cooled

3 Ounces Unsweetened Chocolate
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
3 Tablespoons Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
Pinch Salt
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 6-Ounce Containers Greek-Style Vanilla Coconut Yogurt, Divided

Begin by melting down the chocolate either in a double-boiler or in the microwave, nuking at intervals of 30 seconds and stirring well until smooth. Set aside and let cool for at least 15 minutes.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, thoroughly cream together the margarine and sugar as if you were making cookies, until light and fluffy. Beat in the cocoa, salt, coffee powder, and vanilla, followed by one of the containers of Greek “yogurt.” Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and mix well. Don’t worry if the mixture looks grainy at this point.

Add in the melted chocolate, and whip on high for 3 minutes. Slowly incorporate the final container of “yogurt,” and then resume beating the filling on high speed for an additional 2 – 3 minutes, until smooth.

Pour the filling into your prepared pie crust, and tap it lightly on the counter to release any air bubbles that may be trapped within, and smooth down the top evenly. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.

Top slices with a generous dollop of vegan whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Red, White, and Purplish-Blue

An event that never registered much importance on my radar, the 4th of July is a welcome holiday nonetheless. Even if it means the smell of meaty cookouts wafting through the neighborhood all day and little more than an excuse to blow up some fireworks in the evening, it’s a welcome holiday in the long, occasionally monotonous stretch of summer months. Without the mandated gatherings of family and friends, spent largely lazing about outdoors, it’s questionable whether I would take the time to pause and enjoy the season at all. Honestly, for such a casual affair where the star of the show is usually the hotdog or hamburger (hopefully tofu dog and veggie burger!), it hardly seems worth fussing over creating a grand spread.

That’s not to say that I’ve completely written off the Fourth as day that good food forgot, but if you are going to put some effort into your edibles, it may as well be in one simple, small, and non-essential dish. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that some people can get very edgy when you threaten their Independence Day grilling ritual. This little thing I’ve whipped up here? Just consider it a bonus… Which may end up being a bigger hit than the star of the show itself.

Blue potatoes, skin left intact, are diced small and tossed in a dab of avocado or olive oil, finely minced garlic and fresh rosemary before hitting the oven. Roasted at 400 degrees, it only takes about 15 minutes for the little starchy morsels to reach a state of crisp on the outside and tender within. Cool before proceeding.

Pull out some nice glasses, or glass jars, or even clear plastic cups if you’re against doing dishes on this most laissez-faire of gatherings. Spoon a layer of chilled blue potatoes on the bottom, and press down lightly to keep the stripes even. Top your blue potatoes with an equal layer of tofu feta (made with white miso only, please)- Which, unlike actual feta, is not nearly so salty, fatty, or cloying, and thus edible in larger amounts in a single dish without throwing the balance out of whack.

Finally, chop two or three large, ripe tomatoes, remove the seeds, and toss with a handful of finely diced red onion, a touch of salt, and some very thin shreds of fresh basil. Drain if watery, and pile up high for the final stripe. Store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Whatever you do, don’t call this a potato salad; Deliver it with the title of Patriotic Potato Verrine, and it’s sure to steal the spotlight.


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Quirky, Crunchy Quinoa

Craving a thick slice of cake first thing in the morning isn’t such an unusual thing in this house; Typically, one would simply need to pick up a knife, and shave a hunk off of whatever was made the day prior to indulge that impulse. The breakfast of champions, we would joke to anyone who could hear it, and possibly question that breakfast choice. Lately though, the cake stand has remained clean and empty, tucked away with the other stacks of plates and props in the closet. Time is getting the best of me, with the demands of so many freelance assignments on top of a brand new school semester to juggle, and the pastries just aren’t flying out of the kitchen like they used to. Plus, working on an ice cream cookbook demands that the oven remain silent for the better part of the week, lest I end up contending with a very messy and sticky photo shoot mid-afternoon.

So, what’s a gal with a yen for something sweet supposed to do in the early morning, craving something reminiscent of cake? Given the time to think about it and prepare in advance, make something healthier.

Perhaps I’ve strayed too far off the pastry path for some of you, but believe it or not, this quinoa concoction fulfilled that breakfast craving. Think carrot cake with a crunchier outcome, this simple cereal is more like granola in texture, but still much lighter than the typical nut- and fruit-heavy options.

I like it best with the sweetness and gentle twang of vanilla coconut yogurt (that early in the morning, I can almost pretend it’s cream cheese frosting) plus fresh berries, but the beauty of this basic formula is how easy it is to dress it up or down. Go crazy with mix-ins, or just eat it out of hand, on the go. This was just the healthy remodel that my “cake for breakfast” habit was long overdue for anyway!

Carrot Cake Quinoa Cereal
Inspired by Oh She Glows

1 Cup Uncooked Quinoa
2 Cups Carrot Juice
1 Tablespoon Flax Seeds, Ground
1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
3 – 4 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
1 1/4 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
Pinch Salt

Begin by cooking your quinoa in the carrot juice. Simply bring the carrot juice to a boil in a small pot, and add in the dry quinoa. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and let cook gently for 15 – 20 minutes, until the liquid has all been absorbed. Let cool completely before proceeding. You can speed this up by transferring the cooked quinoa to a large bowl and stirring it around a bit, to let it air-dry more quickly.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and lightly grease a baking sheet with sides.

In a medium bowl, mix the cooled quinoa in with all of the remaining ingredients. Spread the mixture out on your prepared sheet, in as thin and even a layer as you can manage. This will help the cereal bake up nice and crispy, so take your time smoothing it out with either a spatula or lightly moistened hands.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until lightly browned and seemingly dry. It may still have a little bit of “bounce” to it, but don’t worry; it will continue to crisp up as it cools.

Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes about 2 – 3 Servings

Printable Recipe

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