BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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The “F” Word

Just when you thought it was safe to open up your home to visitors once again, now that the tinsel dust and artificial pine scent has settled, I’ve come to ruin your day. More of a curse than a gift, it’s a dubious “treat” that has gained (and quite frankly earned) little respect over centuries of unsavory history. Not to be rude or anything, but it’s time that I dropped the F-bomb.

Fruitcake. Pardon my language.

Yes, I know, head for the hills and don’t accept packages from strangers; I’m offering you a genuine fruitcake, of all things! Trust me, I’ve been a very vocal naysayer of this brick-like food substance, never having seen the benefit to preserving mysteriously colored fruits in a metric ton of sugar before binding them all up into an impenetrable, flavorless batter. Better employed as entertaining projectiles than food stuffs, I would gladly get out there on the field with all the other unlucky fruitcake recipients as well. But, not with this new spin on the concept.

Rummaging through a pantry overstuffed with odd ingredients, I discovered an abundance of so-called “superfoods” that had no clear destination, and little use outside of random nibbles. Instead of simply frittering them away through impulse snacking, such special ingredients deserved a greater end. Baked up into a lighter cake than the traditional take, the crumb stays impossibly moist and does indeed only get better with age. Enhanced with the complex, caramel nuances of coconut sugar, volumes of flavor can shine through without the sticky veil of syrupy sweetness. Kombucha, with its very faintly alcoholic buzz, takes the place of harder liquor or rum here, so even teetotalers can indulge with abandon.

Of course, consider the exact superfruits and nuts listed here merely suggestions. As long as you throw in 1 1/2 – 2 cups of dried mix-ins in addition to the pomegranate arils, your cake will be golden… Literally, once baked.

Super-Fruitcake

1/2 Cup Fresh Pomegranate Arils
1/2 Cup Goji Berries
1/2 Cup Dried Mulberries
1/4 Cup Dried Goldenberries
1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs
1 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Zest
1/2 Cup Kombucha, Divided
1/3 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
2/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
2 Tablespoons Molasses
1 (3.5-Ounce) Packet Frozen Acai Puree, Thawed (or Applesauce, in a Pinch)

Confectioner’s Sugar, To Serve (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 6-inch round, 3-inch high cake pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the pomegranate arils, all of the dried superfruits, walnuts and cacao nibs. Add in the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cardamom, and zest, tossing to coat all of the goodies.

Remove 2 tablespoons of the kombucha and set aside for later. Separately, whisk together the remaining kombucha, coconut oil, coconut sugar, molasses, and acai puree until fairly smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together. A few lumps are fine, especially since it’s a fairly coarse mixture to begin with.

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out mostly clean, with just a few moist crumbs clinging to the sides. Immediately pour the reserved kombucha evenly over the hot cake so that it can soak in as it cools. After cooling completely, the cake sit covered at room temperature, for at least 24 hours for the best results.

If you’d like a little pinch of additional sweetness, top with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar right before serving.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Nog-Off: Speed Round Rematch!

Two years after the first fight for vegan nog supremacy went down, the landscape of dairy-free, egg-free holiday beverages has finally shifted once more. The first change is not a happy one; it seems that the Earth Balance Soy Nog has thrown in the towel, bowing out of the game altogether. This would have left a gaping hole in the lineup, but the good news is that a spry newcomer has stepped up to the plate in its wake. Going by the name of “Holiday Nog” by Califia Farms, this rookie is a definite underdog, having appeared on the scene with little fanfare and almost no web presence. It doesn’t help matters that these shapely 48-ounce bottles are Whole Foods Market exclusives, severely limiting their availability across the country.

What the Holiday Nog lacks in distribution, it makes up for in innovation. The first almond-based nog on the market, it fills a niche previously untouched, meaning that those first punches land with great impact on the largely soy-based competitors. Touting itself as a lighter choice, it goes beyond the standard comparison to traditional eggnog, and goes straight for the kill, hitting where it hurts and boasting lower sugar content than any of the other commercial options out there. True to the claims, this milky elixir pours freely, approximately the same viscosity of standard almond milk. Fine for a solo sip, but that kind of thickness really can’t support an added splash of holiday “spirit”.

Without any detectable almond flavor, it was a brash, borderline harsh and definitely manufactured nutmeg note that dominated, storming in a bit too hard and heavy to really enjoy. The rookie must have tired itself out in that first barrage, because the sweetness struck me as rather lacking, too. Some will definitely appreciate this aspect, owing to a light hand on the organic cane sugar, but quite frankly, I wanted a treat that could stand up to the promise of eggnog, and this just wasn’t doing it. Sorry, sports fans, but this kid is down for the count, leaving So Delicious as the reining champ.

For you folks keeping score at home, that brings the final ranking, from most highly to least recommended, to…

1. Coconut Nog by So Delicious

2. Silk Nog by Silk

3. Holiday Nog by Califia Farms

4. Rice Nog by Rice Dream

Don’t let me tell you what to fill your mug with, though. Host you own nog-off at home and taste the options for yourself! I’m giving away a $25 gift certificate for Whole Foods Market, furnished by the natural grocery giant itself, so that you can pick up a full complement of eggless nogs, or whatever else might bring you a bit of edible holiday cheer. All you need to do is be a resident of the US, and leave me a comment about your favorite commercial nog, homemade recipes, or what you like to make with your excess nog once the holidays are over. Make sure your name and email are both entered into the appropriate boxes so I know who to contact! The entry period will be open until Friday the 13th at Midnight EST, so start talking!

UPDATE: After consulting with my very favorite random number generator, together we determined that the winner of the gift card would be…

The owner of comment #40, otherwise known as sara!

If that wasn’t the result you were hoping for, don’t despair. You can still snap up a coupon good for 50 cents of off Califia Holiday Nog should you want to give it a try yourself. Stay tuned for more giveaways to come, too!


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Stick With It!

Less than a week’s time separates today from the Great National Food Coma, otherwise known as Thanksgiving. More hotly anticipated than any splashy movie premier, most plans for this year’s grand event have long since been laid, solidified, and are now gradually shifting into gear. Menus are set, tasks have been doled out to eager participants, and non-perishables have been procured; no detail, neither big nor small, shall be left unattended.  Only the actual cooking remains for the particularly well organized and industrious few. Knowing just how much work goes into such a grand production, I wouldn’t dream of waltzing in here and suggesting that you turn your carefully crafted game plan completely upside-down with crazy new dishes, not yet passed the test of time. You’ve already got the raw components for the typical fixings, right? I’m merely imploring you to consider them from a new perspective.

All the classic accoutrements threaded neatly onto portion-controlled, hand-held, and highly dippable little packages, Thanksgiving kebabs are the answer to menu malaise. Stick with tradition, keep the Brussels sprouts and “turkey,” but present them in a whole new light. Consider this concept with an open mind for the greatest degree of success, since all the ingredients can be effortlessly swapped with your own holiday favorites, or tweaked to achieve ideal proportions and flavors. Consider adding cubes of sourdough or sturdy cornbread to evoke stuffing; pumpkin or sweet potato could be excellent understudies for butternut; trimmed green beans can comfortably slip into any empty spaces; these kebabs are limited only by a lack of imagination.

Small skewers could be fun teasers for guest to enjoy while awaiting the full spread, but more generous cuts fit perfect on the dinner plate for the main event, too. Send out a heaping platter of kebabs nestled cozily atop a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, gravy for dipping on the side, and you could be on the cusp of a whole new annual tradition, with all the familiar flavors comfortably intact.

Thanksgiving Kebabs

Amounts will vary depending on how many people you plan to serve and which vegetables/add-ins you choose, but the concept remains the same. What follows is largely a reflection of what is pictured above, but the formula is entirely open to interpretation.

Seitan, Tempeh, or Vegan “Turkey,” Cubed
Peeled, Gutted, and Cubed Butternut Squash
Small Brussels Sprouts, Cleaned and Trimmed
Large Fresh Cranberries*

Marinade:

2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Tamari
2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
Pinch Rubbed Sage

To Serve:

Mashed Potatoes (Optional)
Gravy, for Dipping (NOT Optional!)

*When selecting cranberries, be sure to use particularly large berries and skewer them precisely in the center, as they have a tendency to wither and/or split while baking.

Before you start prepping vegetables or turning on the heat, submerge your wooden skewers for at least 20 minutes to prevent them from burning (or worse, catching fire) while in the oven. If using metal skewers, go ahead and skip this precaution.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a shallow baking dish that can accommodate the full length of your skewers.

Thread individual vegetables and “meat” on the skewers in any pattern or proportion you like. There’s no right or wrong answers here, just do what’s easiest, looks good, and tastes good. Just make sure that all your components are roughly the same size so that they cook evenly. Place the finished skewers in a single layer in your prepared baking dish. If you’re making enough for a big party, you may need to consider a second vessel.

Whisk together the ingredients for the marinade and brush it generously over the skewered “meat” and veggies. If you have any leftover, reserve it to baste the skewers once more halfway through the cook time. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of your vegetables, flipping after 10 and basting if desired. The vegetables should be nicely browned and tender when done.

Serve immediately over hot mashed potatoes with a small bowl of gravy for dipping on the side.

Printable Recipe


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Citrus, Spice, and Everything Nice

Rather than just talk and tease about delicious homemade cookies, how about we get down to the knitty gritty, bust out the flour and sugar, and get serious about this holiday baking business?

To be frank, I hate doing what’s expected of me, so it would only follow suit that I can’t stand to give the same old Christmas cookies every year. Biscotti are classics, tried and true, so perfect for shipping thanks to their sturdy structure. Not in a million years would I whip up a batch that was merely almond, or chocolate chip, or another standard (albeit delightful!) flavor, however. This year, the dreary weather has me searching out some citrus sunshine, with an invigorating punch of spice.

Bright, bold flavors help to combat the slowly advancing grey days of winter. In a time when fewer fruits are ripe and fresh inspiration is harder to come by, a well stocked spice rack is key. Transforming the traditionally savory spices of the kitchen into something sweeter, black pepper and cayenne liven up these crisp biscotti, ideal for dunking in tea or coffee. Adding a bold hit of lemon zest to finish it off is guaranteed to wake anyone up and out of hibernation.

Lemon-Pepper Biscotti

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Zest of 2 Medium-Sized Lemons (About 3 Tablespoons)
1/2 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Pinch Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1 6-Ounce Container (3/4 Cup) Plain Soy or Coconut “Yogurt”
2 Tablespoons Smooth Almond Butter
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt just to combine. Zest the lemons directly into the dry goods and toss to distribute, along with the black pepper and cayenne. Follow that with the vegan yogurt, almond butter, and vanilla. Use a wide spatula to incorporate the wet ingredients thoroughly. The mixture will still be rather dry, but it should start to come together into a cohesive ball of dough. Drizzle in one tablespoon of non-dairy milk at a time, until the dough is no longer dry but not quite sticky.

Divide the dough in half and shape each piece on your prepared baking sheet. Form the dough into equally sized logs, 2 inches apart from each other and about an 1 1/2 wide by 8 or 9 inches long. The exact measurements aren’t critical, but make sure that the logs are rather skinny and long, and not mounded up higher than an inch or so. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until lightly golden brown and top. Remove the biscotti logs from the oven on but leave the heat on. Let the loaves cool for at least 15 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, cut the biscotti into 1/2 – 3/4 inch slices and lay them with the cut side down on a fresh piece of parchment or cleaned silpat. Return them to the oven and bake for another 10 – 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip the biscotti over the other cut side and repeat. Let cool completely before removing them from the baking sheet.

Makes 2 – 3 Dozen Biscotti

Printable Recipe


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Coming Soon to a Mailbox or Newsstand Near You…

Typically, sharing about the latest and greatest issue of VegNews is a big waiting game. Rarely does my own copy arrive before I spill the beans, but I can usually resist the urge to post about it at least until the designated month on the cover. Needless to say, that’s not the case for the incoming November/December issue. As soon as I learned that at least one copy was out in the wild, that signaled that it was fair game. This collection of articles and recipes is so enticing, so irresistible, that hopefully my impatience is pardonable this time around.

Returning with another column of My Sweet Vegan, I’m thrilled to share what may very well become the holiday dessert that everyone talks about for years to come: Black Forest Parfaits. The classic Christmas cake has been broken down into its essential components to be reassembled in delicate layers of chocolate cake, vanilla creme, and a lightly boozy drunken Morello cherry sauce. Not only does this presentation allow each element to shine, visible through clear glass walls, but it means individual servings can be prepared in advance and served without any messy slicing or scooping. Easier on the cook and tastier on the palate; can you say, “win-win”?

After coming down from my cake-induced sugar high, I was thrilled to photograph a deeply satisfying, warming soup as well. Effortless to whip up, the depth of flavor that Jesse Miner managed to create in his Smoky Tomato and Kale Soup is astonishing. Spiked with chili and rounded out by hearty potatoes and quinoa, this is not your average pallid tomato water. More like a stew than a modest soup, it could easily pass as a main course, rather than merely a humble side.

Let’s not forget, this is also the issue where the annual Veggie Award winners are revealed, among many other exciting features. Who’s won favorite cookbook or blog author this year? Now, I wouldn’t spoil that surprise even if I knew!


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Winter Wonders

First impressions are of critical importance, or so it’s said when it comes to business and relationships. Subconsciously, we tend to place great significance on the beginnings of new experiences, taking every noteworthy detail as a sign. That’s why I knew that our trip to Germany, however brief, would be a good one even before we had exited the plane.

Gawking out the window as the ground grew rapidly closer, rushing upwards to meet the extended and waiting landing gear, I marveled at just how close the wilderness lay to the man-made monstrosity of the airport. Only a fence separated the two, the distance spanning less than a few steps otherwise. Thick layers of evergreen trees obscured much of the landscape beyond the tarmac, but there, right at the miniscule clearing between greenery and barbed wire fence, was the sight of something incredible. A family of deer and fawns, with one single white deer in the center of the pack.

I would have done a double take if we hadn’t hit the ground with a jolt that very second, rushing past the group at warp speed. I had heard of white squirrels, rare as they are, but never white deer. For such a common creature, this one looked incredibly majestic; magical, even. That was the convincing factor that a vacation was the right choice, that I was in the right place. Only more wonders could await. Serendipitously stumbling upon dainty little fawn cookie cutters at one of the Christmas markets that same day, I took that as my second sign. These cookies were meant to be.

And honestly, it just wouldn’t be the holidays without gingerbread! This particular formula is one that I’ve been making for years, a tried-and-true recipe that I originally made with gingerbread houses in mind. Thus, it makes for ultra-snappy, crisp, and sturdy cookies that retain their shape when baked, travel well, and make a solid foundation for edible buildings. A delicate and fragile shape like the fawns are impossible with almost any sort of standard dough, but this simple method hasn’t failed me yet. As an added bonus, there’s not even any chilling time to take into account. Though I wouldn’t recommend getting started on your holiday baking quite so late in the game, this does provide an excellent last-minute option.

Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies

Chai Gingerbread Cookies:

3 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cardamom
1 Teaspoons Ground Allspice
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
Pinch Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Molasses
1 Tablespoon Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Blondie Gingerbread Cookies:

3 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 1/2 – 3 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Allspice
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
Pinch Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Light Corn Syrup*
1 Tablespoon Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Royal Icing:

2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
3 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar or Light Corn Syrup*
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla (or Peppermint, or Almond, or Lemon…) Extract
Water, as Needed and Used Sparingly

*Be sure to hunt down corn syrup that has no high-fructose corn syrup added. You can substitute light agave if you’d prefer, but the dough will brown more as a result.

Preheat your oven to 300.

The procedure is the same for either flavor of cookie, and if you want to make both, simply repeat the steps for the separate doughs. In either a large metal bowl or a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt. While you can certainly bring this dough together by hand, it will require some vigorous stirring, so I would advice bringing out the heavy artillery if you have it!

Meanwhile, combine the margarine, sugar, and molasses or corn syrup in a small saucepan and heat gently. Cook the mixture and stir gently, just until the margarine has melted and the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour the hot liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients, immediately followed by the non-dairy milk, and mix well. It will be very thick and somewhat difficult to mix, but give it all you’ve got and don’t waste time- It will become harder as it cools.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, press it into a ball, and roll it out to about an 1/8th of an inch in thickness. Cut it into your desired shapes with cookie cutters and transfer the cookies over to a silpat. Bake until the edges of your cookies are just barely browned; 13-20 minutes, depending on the size of your shapes. Let the cookies sit for a minute on the baking sheet before moving them over to a wire rack to cool.

For the royal icing, simply combine the confectioner’s sugar, cornstarch, agave, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add in water, one teaspoon at a time, stirring thoroughly after each addition, until it reaches a pipe-able consistency. Be sure to take this process slowly, as just one drop too much liquid can make the icing runny. Allow a full 24 hours for the icing to completely harden.

Yield varies based on the cookie cutter

Printable Recipe


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Vegan Holiday Kitchen

Cooking for a crowd can be daunting even for the seasoned pro, especially when there are specific holiday traditions to uphold. Bound by expectations of great feasts, in addition to the dietary restrictions of every last guest, how is one supposed to plan a festive vegan meal when times of celebration come about? Before demurring and declaring it a potluck affair, do yourself a favor and pick up Nava Atlas‘ new cookbook, Vegan Holiday Kitchen. Encompassing occasions from numerous religions and all throughout the year, it’s sure to guide you out of many sticky situations in any season. Trouble coming up with a hearty main dish for unenthusiastic omnivores, who still think that vegans subsist on lawn clippings and twigs? Or maybe you’re already preaching to the choir, but have trouble with menu planning? Whatever the case, Nava’s got you covered. Attractively photographed by the talented Susan Voisin, the pages sparkle with delicious inspiration and appetite-awakening ideas.

Gravitating first towards the more wintry fare, I can see how the Hearty Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie (page 98) could become the talk of a Christmas party. A mercifully healthy respite from the heavy, rich foods synonymous with the season, the incredibly savory flavor carries this dish far. Opting to make individual servings since I wasn’t actually hosting a great number of guests, and wanting to easily freeze and defrost portions at will, the conversion was painless. Lots of mashed potatoes were leftover after topping my personal pies, although I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all. Next time around, I might skip the breadcrumbs at the bottom which didn’t really add much to the dish. (Edit: Nava has explained to me that the breadcrumbs are meant to make slicing and serving a whole shepherd’s pie neater and easier, which is actually pretty clever. So, definitely keep them for a complete, family-style dish, but feel free to omit them for single servings like I made.) Otherwise, it was all you could ask for from a main dish meant to impress- Highly satisfying, well-balanced with both protein and greens, and deeply flavored with umami mushrooms, soy sauce, and aromatic herbs.

Seeking a more complete sample of the recipes on offer, and wanting a simple side to whip together without much fuss, the Pasta and Red Quinoa Salad (page 236) caught my eye early on. Red quinoa eluded me at the grocery store, but the regular old white variety was a fine stand-in. Bright, fresh flavors highlighted by the creamy yet tangy dressing make this disarmingly easy salad irresistible. A delightful combination of textures, between the tender quinoa, al dente pasta (I went with adorable mini bow ties), and crisp veggies, it would be an excellent option for a spring or summer gathering. Of course, you needn’t wait that long- I enjoyed it just fine even in the freezing days of December.

All the previous success was nothing, however, compared to what I believe is the crowning jewel of this collection: The Matzoh Ball Soup (page 115). A simple but surprisingly difficult staple that both bubbies and their babies adore, it’s one dish that I’ve been missing since becoming vegan. Passover would come and go, and I could only look longingly at those pillowy spheres floating in golden broth being devoured. Previous attempts had been spectacular failures, ranging from cannon ball dumplings to magically dissolving and disappearing matzo balls, so I was pretty much convinced that I would never eat anything nearly as good as the original.

Well, I think you know where this is all going by now. I want to state, for the record, that these are the best damn matzoh balls ever. No, perhaps they’re not “fluffy” in the truest sense of the word, but they’re so ethereally light, the simple soup, so perfectly rich and comforting, that the first spoonful brought me right back to my childhood. This is what I had been missing, and will never again go without. For this recipe alone, the cookbook is worth its sticker price, and then some. (The key to absolute soup perfection, by the way, is a truly delicious no-chicken broth, so don’t skimp!)

I’m typically not one to host lavish dinner parties, but the Holiday Vegan Kitchen may slowly convince me to change my tune.

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