BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

Who hasn’t landed on a lavishly curated new blog, garnished with extravagant photos tucked between every mouthwatering paragraph, and cursed the fact that the potential for smell-o-vision technology has not been fully realized yet? Better yet, where are those edible 3-D printer inks when you need them? It’s the best and worst aspects of the blogosphere that are inseparable: Inspiring recipes from all corners of the globe can be instantly beamed into your home, but the ferocious hunger that they incite cannot be be satisfied by mere visuals alone. Although this far-flung community is closer than many social groups in real life, it’s hard to bridge that physical gap when you can’t just reach out and share a cookie with your friends.

Thus, the annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap is nothing short of a holiday miracle. Started in 2011, I only regret jumping onto this bandwagon so late in the game. Imagining the joy that my own homemade cookies might spread, the moments that their sweetness might brighten, kept my oven churning even through the stress of work deadlines. Finally having like-minded recipients for my sugared creations was a singular thrill, but admittedly, it wasn’t my only motivation. Tired of winter dinner parties where all meals ended with a cacophony of eggs and butter, I wanted some special holiday cookies for myself, gosh darn it!

Sending out three carefully wrapped parcels and anticipating three others in return, my already lofty expectations were far exceeded by the sweetness soon to arrive.

The Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies from Happy To Be a Table of Two were the first guests to check in at this sugar-fueled gathering. The brilliant aroma of chocolate and cinnamon mingled in the air before the zip-lock bag was even unsealed, and I knew I would be in for a treat. Tender, soft, and supple, each generous round was the perfect texture, made even more impressive due to the time and travel involved. Every bite packs in an ideal amount of chips to add bursts of rich chocolate flavor without dominating the whole cookie. A delightful combination of flavors that seems well suited for all seasons, this is one recipe I’m definitely adding into my collection.

The next, truly outstanding creation came courtesy of Loose Leaf Vegan. Her impeccable Chai Thumbprint Cookies rang with a measured balance of salt and spices, culminating in luscious pools of toothsome fudge on top. Supported by a pillow-y yet satisfyingly dense base, the rich chocolate filling absolutely put these morsels over the top. I’m afraid you’ll just have to take my word for it though, since I selfishly horded, and have since eaten, every last cookie by myself. The baked beauties are just too good to share.

Unfortunately, the final package didn’t fare as well in the hands of our good old postal system. Delivered with a resounding thud at the front door, it’s no surprise that the contents were crumbled to almost indistinguishable grains of sand. At least two or three good bites survived intact, and I was still able to savor the Orange Almond Cookies and Chocolate Vanilla Swirl Cookies baked by Not So Cheesy Kitchen. Of the two buttery shortbread cookies, I was particularly fond of the subtle citrus notes in the former. Though I could have eaten a boxful in that one sitting, I was happy to get a fine sampling all the same.

As for my own contribution to this grand exchange, I shared a few dozen Speculoos (AKA Cookie Butter) Pinwheel Cookies. Rolled with a stripe of chocolate dough, the trendy brown sugar and cinnamon spread sings with harmonious contrasting tastes. That recipe is one I’ve shared with Go Dairy Free, so please pop on over there to grab the details.

This was my very first cookie swap of any sort, and I can tell you without hesitation that it certainly won’t be my last.


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Uncommon Excellence

‘Tis the season of giving, although in this modern age it may be more accurate to say that it’s the season of shopping. Judging by the influx of gift guides already lining the pages of blogs both big and small, I’d have to assume that everyone already has more ideas for their holiday handouts than they know what to do with. If you’re anything like me though, these lists serve not to inspire better offerings to share with loved ones, but to capture my own desires. No matter if I’m looking at suggestions geared towards photographers or lumberjacks, I promise you I’ll find at least one purchase to add to my personal wish list, coming up empty handed yet again for my family and friends. Am I just easy to please, or has it become more difficult to shop for others, with all of their particular preferences? Nothing ever seems like just the right kind of gift, balancing gracefully between the grey areas of useless junk and utilitarian items for work. How can I inject a bit of whimsy into the everyday, and where on earth can I find such a rarity?

The internet holds the key to solving this conundrum, of course. Online shopping has become an increasingly popular pursuit, if not a genuine sport at this point. Questions of quality still remain, and sketchy merchants can ruin the most thoughtfully planned out gifting procedure, so the real question isn’t “what should I buy” for the holidays, but “where should I buy from?” Well, allow me to introduce one of the most fun stores on the web: Uncommon Goods. Perhaps you’ve heard of it before, and rightly so. They’ve been in the biz for over 15 years and feature some of the most unique, charming offerings I’ve seen all in one place. They truly live up to their title, working with small artists to furnish their catalog with handmade, one-of-a-kind items along with fun gadgets and toys that you may not have seen before. They too have many gift suggestions built in for the well-meaning but clueless shopper, although of course I was immediately drawn to the dishware section instead.

Given a generous stipend to test out their services and report back on the results, I certainly did take away an incredible haul. Shipping out with speeds that rival the gold standard set by Amazon, I’d wager to say that their packing is even more secure. Despite the weight and fragility of my items, not a single piece was dinged, scratched, or anything less than ideal. So, what presents did I give myself for the holidays this year? Primarily, lots of rocks.

Stone slabs in the form of cheeseboards, to be more precise. The granite cheese board with spreader was my real trophy gift, a luxurious hunk of glossy granite complete with a charming wooden knife. The dark coloring was in sharp contrast to the photo featured online, but that variability only added to the appeal. Even if you’re ordering for yourself, you may be in for a happy surprise!

Another excellent pick for the host or hostess with everything would be the slate cheese board with soapstone chalk (chalk not pictured.) That rich burgundy stone is absolutely stunning, and such an unusual shade to find in the typically drab category of grey slate serving pieces. This is one versatile plate that will no doubt make many more appearances in my photos for years to come. Best of all, it provides a spacious 10×16-inches for all of your appetizer needs, making it a genuinely excellent value, especially compared to what you might find in comparable houseware boutiques.

Moving deeper into the pages of dishes and utensils, the udon noodle bowls captivated me at first sight. Beautifully crafted and a true pleasure to use, this is one of the rare pieces that enjoys a place both in my prop closet and on the dinner table. It’s a perfect example of form and function working together, creating a vessel that holds an ideal amount of noodle-y goodness with an ergonomic handle and built-in chopstick rest. My only regret is not purchasing one in every color.

Finally, as a fun little toy to play around with in the kitchen, my final choice is one that my loved ones will actually benefit from as well. Churning out dozens of holiday cookies for annual swaps and parties alike, mine are guaranteed to stand out from the pack this year thanks to my brand new customizable cookie stamp. Infinitely adaptable to all holidays an occasions, the edible messages that it creates are sure to impress- Yes, pun intended. My fool-proof gingerbread cut-out cookies have never looked better, and there’s certainly no mistaking who made these sweets, even amongst a mountain of homemade holiday desserts.

Rather than give you more lists to look up or my own favorite holiday selections, I just want to give you this entire website for inspiration. Better yet, I want to give you a bit of holiday cheer in the form of a $50 gift certificate to spend however you please in this wonderland of shopping. To enter, hop on over to Uncommon Goods and browse about. Tell me what you would order, and who you’re ordering for (I’ll admit, I’m just nosy and want to know!) Make sure you include your name and email in the appropriate boxes and log your response before midnight EST on December 15th. Sorry to my international friends, but you must be a resident of the US to enter.

Treat yourself, spoil your friends, indulge however you want just as long as you enjoy!

UPDATE: The entry period has ended and the good old random number generator has smiled upon one lucky reader. That person happens to be the owner of comment #24…

Panya! You’ve won the giveaway and will be hearing from the folks at Uncommon Goods shortly. For everyone else, don’t despair; the next opportunity to take home a fun or tasty prize package is never too far away, so stay tuned.

This post and giveaway was made possible by the kind folks at Uncommon Goods. All opinions, photos, and recipes are completely my own.


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The Last Last-Minute Gift

Browse around the web for five minutes or more and you’ll undoubtedly run across at least a dozen “last-minute gift guides,” all touting effortless tokens for the people you forgot you should care about. Heartwarming stuff to consider right before Christmas, isn’t it? Since Chanukah has been long over for weeks now, it’s strange to watch it all unfold from the sidelines, without getting swept up in the madness as I usually do each year.

Of course, I do still have one suggestion here at the eleventh hour, but I’ll level with you: This post is more for my benefit, but you might just enjoy the results, too. Why sit on this fabulous candy recipe for another full calendar cycle, holding it back through the austere days of the New Year while everyone suffers a collective sugar hangover? While your sweet tooth is still in gear, set aside a few extra minutes for this simple yet transcendent treat. I had merely wanted to play around with the gold-tinted crystals of Zulka sugar that the company had been kind enough to send my way, but the toffee that came of my kitchen capers was anything but ordinary.

My dad, a man who knows his way around all things candy and an avowed sugar-supporter if I ever did meet one, claimed that this was some of the best toffee he ever had. No small compliment coming from such a knowledgeable source! So, if you find even one inch of space remaining on your cookie plate, in your candy baskets, or simply in your stomach, take that last-minute before the holidays all blow over to make yourself a batch. If one crisp, golden, nutty morsel of toffee is the last sugary taste on your lips for the rest of 2013, it would leave you with a sweet memory of the season indeed.

Golden Macadamia Toffee

1 Cup Toasted, Lightly Chopped Macadamia Nuts
2/3 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Zulka Sugar
1 Tablespoon Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, lightly grease, and sprinkle the macadamia nuts and white chocolate chips as evenly over the bottom as possible. Set aside.

Combine the margarine, sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar, and then keep your spatula out of the mixture until the very end. Instead, swirl the pan gently to mix the contents, which will help prevent premature crystal formation.

Allow the margarine to melt and sugar to dissolve before clipping a thermometer to the side of the pan. You’ll want to bring the sugar to a steady boil, until it turns a deep amber brown color and reaches 300 degrees, which is also known as the “hard crack stage” of candy making.

Turn off the heat, carefully stir in the vanilla as it may sputter angrily, and immediately pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Try to pour it evenly over the goodies within, because the more you spread it around with your spatula, the more you’ll smear the melting white chocolate. Don’t worry if it doesn’t reach all the way to the edges of the pan.

Let cool completely before snapping into more manageable pieces. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Printable Recipe


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Wild Winter Wonderland

Change up the usual festive flavors and think blue this holiday season! Before you hit palate fatigue from pumpkin pie-spiced everything, reach to the freezer for inspiration and invite Wild Blueberries back to the party. Even as the days go by and winter tightens its grip, frozen Wild Blueberries are still not only available but convenient, since they’ll stay icily preserved until inspiration strikes, and of course, just as sweet and delicious as ever. I’m not alone in my Wild Blueberry holiday plans, as two other very talented bloggers have joined me in developing some festive, true blue treats to celebrate the season.

Together, with the help of Wild Blueberries, we banded together to create a delicious free e-book with seven irresistible recipes, both sweet and savory, to help inspire some new holiday traditions.

My contributions start with a sweet and simple drink. It may not look like much more than a standard mug of hot chocolate, but beneath that steamy surface hides a rich, blue secret. Wild Blueberries and chai tea spice things up together, contributing both a warming and fresh, fruity flavor unlike any other cocoa combination I’ve ever tried. Wild Blueberry Chai-Spiced Hot Chocolate is a snap to whip up after a rough day out in the freezing cold, and is sure to take the chill off instantly.

Heading over to the savory side of the street, a quick Wild Blueberry jam infused with fresh sage is sure to surprise and delight. Perfect to smear on crackers and enjoy unadorned, or pack into pretty glass jars to give away as gifts, this is an intense, flavorful spread that masterfully balances sweet, savory, sour, salty, and herbal tastes in every bite. Of course, you can also dress it up for your next big shindig by creating Wild Blueberry Crostini.

Lightly toasted slices of baguette are topped with creamy pistachio ricotta, serving as the perfect foil to the flavorful jam. Finish the whole thing off with a sprinkle of crunchy whole pistachios, and guests may not be able to save room for dinner itself.

Stock up on a bag or two of frozen Wild Blueberries and go check out the whole free e-book for these recipes and more. I don’t know about you, but now I’m dreaming of a blue Christmas…

This post was written for and is sponsored by Wild Blueberries, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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Leftover Links

Another day, another delicious project! Although the blog hasn’t exactly been a hub of activity lately, the kitchen is another story. Churning out recipes and photos at every turn, fresh assignments for other outlets have kept me busy lately, but with less to share in this space of my own. Happily, many of those features are now hitting the internet, so it seemed like as good a time as any to round them up and share what I’ve been working on…

I make no secret of my strong bias towards all of Nava Atlas‘ unbeatable creations, but it’s been an absolute joy to continue our partnership beyond her forthcoming cookbook. Essentially cooking my way through the archives of VegKitchen, I’m proud to report that the Thanksgiving selections in particular are now lavishly illustrated, with photos that will hopefully inspire and entice in equal parts. From main courses to sides to sweets and beyond, there’s everything you could need to prepare for the festive meal, and I can vouch for the flavor of each and every one of them.

In case that’s not enough dessert for you, I also shared a super-simple No-Bake Apple Ice Cream Pie over on Go Dairy Free. Use a few store-bought shortcuts and whip this beauty up in mere minutes, or go all the way with homemade components; you can’t lose with either approach, and the results are guaranteed to impress.

Hitting newsstands and mailboxes shortly, you’ll find these Caramel Apple Crisp Cupcakes stashed within the pages of the November/December issue of VegNews Magazine. Lavished with ribbons of salted caramel sauce and a crown of caramel frosting, the tender, lightly spiced apples within never had it so good. Who said the cupcake trend was over?

I’m delighted to announce that Vegan Desserts is finally available for purchase again, now in its second printing and paperback format! In case you missed out on the first round, you now have a chance to enjoy all the same tried-and-true recipes, but now with fewer errors and two additional photos that were originally omitted. Not to mention, an even further reduced price over the hardcover version.

Finally, for any local readers, I want to point your attention to the Small Business Saturday event at the Fairfield University Bookstore on November 30th, where eight local authors will share their favorite books- Myself included! Get your cookbooks signed to give as gifts, if you can bear to part with them, and taste some samples of the recipes within. Hope to see you there!


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Run, Run, as Fast as You Can…

…But you’ll never escape my ravenous sweet tooth, Mr. Gingerbread Man.

Fully embracing the temptations of excess, especially abundant in this celebratory season, all I want to make and eat is candy. Typically, just a bite or two of concentrated sweetness will do me, but reaching a sugar coma has seemed to be the end goal recently. At least, that’s how the revelry tends to end, with my poor throbbing head so much the worse for wear. Must the desire for a few extra comforting confections always carry such a terrible price tag? Turns out that raw nuts help quite a bit to satiate the inner sweet-toothed monster, and a handful of whole grains give even tiny morsels far greater staying power.

When Hodgson Mill originally sent a box of pro bono flours and baking mixes, I found myself stumped by the pre-measured mixtures. They’re simply not something I stock my pantry with or employ, so straight away, it was a curious puzzle: What can be made with cake mix, that isn’t cake? Perhaps it’s fudging the boundaries of definition a bit, but how about cake truffles?

With a half-empty jar of speculoos spread just begging to be finished off, the pairing was inevitable, and a delicious match indeed. Enrobed in dark chocolate, the tender cake centers have just enough spice and sweetness to disguise the whole wheat and flax within. Each bite yields nothing but candy bliss, without the sugar hangover afterward.

Better yet, these adorable treats can be dressed up as cake pops. Adorable hand-held gifts or party favors, not a single one of these gingerbread men will escape the mouths of delighted guests.

Naturally, you can just as well whip up a little over one pound of gingerbread cake from any recipe you desire, boxed or fully homemade. Just be mindful of the amount of sugar, because the frosting itself is quite sweet. In the end, though, it’s all good when it’s dipped in chocolate.

Speculoos Gingerbread Cake Truffles

Gingerbread Cake:

1 15-Ounce Package Hodgson Mills Whole Wheat Gingerbread Mix
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
2 Tablespoons Water
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Canola Oil

Speculoos Frosting:

3/4 Cup Speculoos Spread
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, at Room Temperature
1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 – 1 Tablespoon Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Chocolate Coating:

12 Ounces (2 Cups) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil or 100% Cocoa Butter

Optional Additions and Garnishes:

Small Lollipop Sticks
Colored Nonpareil Sprinkles
Chocolate Jimmies*

*Before dipping the truffles, go through the bottle of sprinkles and pick out any that have a slight curve to them. The majority will be straight, but if you look closely enough, you will find plenty that are “smiling.” You may also want to apply your sprinkles with a pair of tweezers for the most precision.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8 square pan.

In a large bowl, whisk all of the cake ingredients together until thoroughly combined, with no pockets of dry ingredients remaining. Bake for 28 – 32 minutes, until set around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake pulls out cleanly, without any slick of raw batter. Let cool completely before breaking up the cake and crumbling it into small, even pieces.

The frosting is equally effortless and speedy: Place the speculoos spread, margarine, and confectioner’s sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer, and start the machine on a low speed. Once the powder has been incorporated and is no longer at risk of flying out, turn up the speed to high, and slowly drizzle in the “milk,” until the frosting is smooth, homogenous, and a spreadable consistency.

Add a modest dollop into the bowl of cake crumbs and mix it all around. This is a messy job, as the best way to combine the two components is to get in there with your hands. Don’t be shy! It could be a fun job for the kids to help out with, too. Add in more frosting as needed, until the mixture just comes together when squeezed. You will likely have extra frosting, so don’t be tempted to add all of it, lest you want mushy truffles.

Dump the cake mixture out onto a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and flatten it out to about 1/2 – 3/4 inch in thickness. Use a small gingerbread man cookie cutter to cut out the shapes, pulling away the excess. Recombine the extra “dough”, flatten out once more, and cut more figures until the cake is all used up. Insert sticks now if using, and carefully move the silpat or parchment onto a baking sheet. Place the whole thing in the freezer on a flat surface, and let freeze for at least 3 hours, until solid.

To coat the truffles, combine the chocolate and coconut oil or cocoa butter in a microwave-safe dish, and heat for 60 seconds. Stir very well until the mixture is smooth. If there are still a few stubborn chips that refuse to melt, continue heating the coating at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each, until entirely lump-free.

Dip each truffle center, one at a time, into the melted chocolate. Use a fork to pull individual truffles out of the mixture and allow the excess coating to drip free. Be especially careful with any truffles on sticks, because they are particularly delicate. Move each piece back onto the silpat or piece of parchment paper, and quickly add sprinkles for the eyes and mouth before the coating solidifies. Repeat with the remaining truffles. Store in the fridge in an air-tight container.

Makes 30 – 40 Truffles

Printable Recipe


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Holly, Jolly, Nog-gy

Thank goodness Christmas is still ahead of us. Winding down one winter holiday so early in the season turns out to be a brilliant stroke of good luck, because now the celebrations can go on twice as long. Eggnog is hands-down my favorite flavor of the upcoming fete, despite the fact that I’ve never had a nog with egg in it. An rich and frothy beverage combining all the best sweet, savory, and salty elements that could possibly mingle in one glass, it doesn’t have to be “authentic” to be utterly delicious. As long as there’s a light splash of rum and a generous sprinkle of nutmeg, it’s all nog to me.

Converting those essential essences into a bite-sized sweet treat was a must for gift giving and snacking this year. A truffle of a different color, these would be beautiful mixed into an assortment of various spiced, mint, or dark and candies as well. In fewer words, they play well with others.

Nog Truffles

1 Cup Raw Whole Cashews, Soaked for 2 – 3 Hours and Thoroughly Drained
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup (2 Ounces) 100% Pure Cocoa Butter, Melted
1 Tablespoon Dark Rum
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Teaspoons Nutritional Yeast
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Kala Namak (Black Salt)

White Chocolate Coating:

2/3 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
1 Tablespoon 100% Pure Cocoa Butter
Ground Nutmeg, to Garnish

Place the soaked and drained cashews in your blender or food processor, along with all of the remaining ingredients that make up the centers. Blend until completely and perfectly smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the work bowl as needed to ensure that all small nut fragments are incorporated. Transfer the sweet puree to a heat-safe bowl and let rest in the freezer until firm; at least 1 hour.

Retrieve the truffle centers from the freezer and use a small cookie scoop or 2 spoons to scoop out about 1 tablespoon of the mixture at a time, rolling the chunks into smooth balls between the palms of your hands. Place the rounded centers onto a silpat or piece of parchment paper on top of a sheet pan, and repeat until the mixture is used up. Work quickly to prevent the filling from becoming too soft and unworkable. Move the whole sheet of naked truffles back into the freezer on a flat surface, and chill until solid; at least another hour.

When you’re ready to finish off the candies, combine the white chocolate chips and cocoa butter in a microwave-safe dish, and heat for 60 seconds. Stir very well until the mixture is smooth. If there are still a few stubborn chips that refuse to melt, continue heating the coating at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each, until entirely lump-free.

Dip each truffle center, one at a time, into the melted white chocolate. Use a fork to pull them out of the mixture and allow the excess coating to drip free. Move each piece back onto the silpat or piece of parchment paper, and quickly sprinkle lightly with additional ground nutmeg before the coating solidifies. Repeat with the remaining truffles. Store at room temperature in an air-tight container.

Makes 12 – 18 Truffles

Printable Recipe

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