BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Chocolate Conquers All

Time has a way of wearing down the rough edges, if not healing all wounds. No longer quite as embittered about all the artifice and commercial underpinnings of Valentine’s Day, even without a significant other for another year, it doesn’t rile me up in quite the same way any more. Gone is the angst-filled teenager adorning black t-shirts with glittery beads spelling out the words “LOVE BITES” or handing out anti-love letters to friends and frenemies alike. Truthfully, it’s not all so terrible as it once appeared. Having an annual reminder to appreciate the people in your life, romantically or not, certainly doesn’t hurt. Above all else though, it’s an excellent excuse to splurge on dessert once more, pulling out all the stops under the guise of treating someone else. It’s okay, we all know the baker wants to indulge their own tastes, too.

Chocolate is the taste du jour, so popular that no mere box of truffles could contain it. Brownies, thick, fudgy squares far more versatile than the classic little black dress, are easy to glam up for the occasion. Unintentionally adding a supposed aphrodisiac to the mix, a few dried black figs simply struck me as a perfect pairing to all cacao decadence, light and fruity with a bit of toothsome pull. Likewise, the inclusion of fresh mint seemed like the ideal way to brighten the whole treat, lest the density of these brownies overwhelm the palate.

No, it’s not a figment of your imagination, but they are indeed fig-mint brownies. Stranger things could happen- Just take my gradual acceptance of V-Day as proof.

Fig-Mint Brownies

1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1/4 Cup Lightly Packed Fresh Mint Leaves, Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 1/4 Cups Dried Black Mission Figs, Chopped
1/2 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
10 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
2/3 Cup Canola Oil
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Cup Vegan Sour Cream or Greek-Style Yogurt
1 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees, and lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and cocoa. Toss in the minced fresh mint, instant coffee, baking powder, and granulated sugar, mixing together thoroughly. Add in the chopped figs and chocolate chips, and toss to coat in the dry mixture. This will help prevent them from sinking to the bottom of your brownies during baking.

Place the chopped chocolate and oil in a separate, microwave-safe bowl, and heat for about 60 seconds. Stir vigorously, and continue to heat at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well each time, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Mix in the brown sugar, sour cream or yogurt, and vanilla and peppermint extracts.

Let the chocolate cool for a few minutes so that it doesn’t melt your chips, and then pour that wet mixture into the dry. Stir just enough to bring the batter together into a thick, fudgy mass, and transfer it into your prepared pan. Press it out into one even layer. Scatter the quartered sandwich cookies over the top, and press them gently.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until the top no longer looks glossy and is somewhat crackled, and the edges are firm. Do not be alarmed if it still seems extremely wet. Let cool fully and completely. Blot any excess oils off with paper towel if necessary before slicing. Share with many someones that you love!

Makes 16 – 24 Brownies

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Mint Condition

For the sake of argument, let’s just say that you have a garden still overflowing with fresh mint, and for some odd reason or another, you recently bought an entire case of green pea flour on whim. Crazy scenario, I know, but humor me for a moment here. Managing those two surpluses separately would be completely possible, but a wasted opportunity. What combination has stood the test of time better or longer than mint and peas, after all? Bright, sprightly peppermint seamlessly works its way not only into every viable crack in the soil, but also every dish in the kitchen, effortlessly jumping from sweet to savory and back again. That lively punch of flavor is just what an odd-ball ingredient like pea flour needs to shake off its shyness and triumphantly emerge from the pantry once more.

A prime breakfast, brunch, or side dish option, the fluffy yet sturdy crumb of these muffins will make you forget all about mum’s traditional mushy peas. Pops of subtle sweetness from whole green peas balance out this savory affair, while the pea flour keeps the flavor front and center through every bite. Lightly buttery and surprisingly rich, you’ll forget all about the abundant whole grains and vegetables sneaking in at the same time. Keep a stash of these satisfying little quick breads frozen, ready to defrost and serve in an instant, and you’ll never again struggle to finish your peas at dinner.

Minted Pea Muffins

1 Cup Green Pea Flour
1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Mint Leaves, Finely Minced
1 1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 1/2 Cups Frozen Green Peas, Thawed
1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
2 Teaspoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a standard-sized muffin tin. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pea flour, white whole wheat flour, minced mint leaves, baking powder and soda, salt, and black pepper. Once all of the dry goods are thoroughly mixed, add in the thawed green peas and lightly toss them to coat. This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins later on.

Separately, mix the non-dairy milk, oil, melted margarine or coconut oil, agave, and vinegar. Once combined, pour the wet into the bowl of dry ingredients, and use a wide spatula to incorporate. Stir just until a smooth batter forms, being careful not to over-mix. Divide the batter evenly between 9 – 10 muffin prepared cups, depending on how tall you want your muffins.

Bake for 16 – 20 minutes, until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Eat warm, cool, or freeze for future enjoyment.

Makes 9 – 10 Muffins

Printable Recipe


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Minty Fresh

Sparse vines reach weakly upward towards the sunlight filtering in between the thick blanket of leaves above, gently yellowing despite their youth. Choked out by the tall trees overhead that greedily suck down all the rich solar nutrition, our fragile, immature tomato plants never had a chance. Careful weeding and daily watering be damned- Not a drop of those efforts show. For reasons unknown, this will be our worst harvest ever, if you can even call it a “harvest.” It would be a joy to pull even a solitary ripe, red orb from those sagging knots of greenery, but I’m not so optimistic about even that kind of yield.

While I can only look on with envy as friends effortlessly produce vegetables of all colors and shapes from their own backyard gardens, I have but one tiny success to brag about: The mint. Known for being aggressively prolific, spreading like a weed and reseeding itself for years to come, ours finally broke the curse of our sad patch of dirt and actually followed suit. Sprouting and outgrowing the small patch originally allotted to them, the herbaceous leaves now cover nearly half of the paltry expanse, growing like a full, unruly mane of hair, much in need of a trim. And so, with no vegetables to temper my enthusiasm, trim I did.

After batches of mint chocolate sorbet, mint tea, and minted snow peas, the mint still kept coming with no end in sight. Fully confident that the supply would not run short, I went for the gusto and gathered as much as I could before the rainclouds above burst once again, snipping off every viable leaf to make up a fresh take on pesto. Before that quick spread could even finish whirling about the blades of the food processor, I already had a full recipe planned out to put it to work.

Borrowing from a Middle Eastern palate of flavors for inspiration, pomegranate proved to be a perfectly tangy match to this bright and herbaceous paste. Not only do the crunchy arils make an appearance to lend textural contrast, but the foundation of the salad itself, chewy pearls of Israeli couscous, are cooked in pure pomegranate juice as well. Cool, crisp cucumbers punctuate the mixture, lightening the whole dish considerably- And because, as we’ve established, I can’t go a single summer day without getting my cucumber fix.

Even if you don’t have ground cover of mint threatening to take over your entire yard, it’s well worth the effort to forage through the farmer’s market to make the pesto, if not the whole couscous salad. Consider tossing it into potato salad, spread it over crostini, or pack it into sandwiches. The recipe makes enough for leftovers, so you can easily spare enough explore all those delicious options, and then some.

Pomegranate Mint Couscous

Mint Pesto:

1/4 Cup Roasted, Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
1 – 2 Cloves Garlic
1 Teaspoon White Miso
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
2 Cups Loosely Packed Mint Leaves
1/2 Cup Loosely Packed Basil Leaves
1/4 Cup Flax or Hemp Seed Oil
Big Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Salt, to Taste

In a food processor, pulse the sunflower seeds and garlic lightly to break them down a bit, and add in the miso and lemon zest to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and introduce the mint and basil. Pulse again to incorporate, and then with the machine running, stream in the oil. Puree until mostly smooth but still slightly coarse in texture, and season with cayenne and salt to taste. Use right away, or store in airtight container in the fridge. The mint pesto can be made ahead of time refrigerated for up to a week.

Makes About 3/4 Cup

Pomegranate Couscous Salad:

2 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Dry Israeli Couscous
1/2 Cup Frozen or Fresh Green Garbanzo Beans, or Frozen Green Peas
1/3 Cup Mint Pesto (See Recipe Above)
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil, if Needed
1 Cup Diced Seedless Cucumber
1/2 Cup Pomegranate Arils
Pinch Ground Black Pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the pomegranate juice and salt to a boil. Add in the couscous, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the green garbanzo beans or peas while the pasta is still hot, thawing or gently cooking the beans with the residual heat. Transfer to a large bowl, and thoroughly mix in the pesto. Add in the oil if needed to loosen up the pesto and more evenly distribute it throughout. Toss in the cucumber, arils, and season with pepper to taste. Stir well, and chill thoroughly before serving.

Makes 6 – 8 Side Servings

Printable Recipe


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The Christmas Cookies That Weren’t

Despite best intentions, holiday gifts always end up as a rushed, last-minute affair. What with the endless waffling over precisely what to make and share, there ends up being little time to actually bake, wrap, and ship those treats off so that they arrive before the appointed holidays have passed. Well, for the first year in recent memory, those sweets never made it to the post office at all, let alone their destinations. To put it simply, it was an “epic fail” on my part.

Still borderline delirious after being taken out by a vicious head cold, perhaps it was not the best idea to leap into a project of such scale. But oh, what false confidence I had! I even did a test run of the recipe, to make sure it was tasty, reasonably mail-able, and all around a solid choice. Shaped as adorable little wreaths and brilliantly emerald green, they were so perfectly festive, too! Glittering with a light sprinkle of coarse sugar, I was certain that these sweet, minty little numbers would be the hit of the holidays. Of course, I tested them as a small batch… And I foolishly believed that this formula could effortlessly be increased, by four times, no less.

No dice. As soon as the mixer started to crank up into gear, I knew I was in deep sh– …dough. Flour and sugar spraying over the sides of my overburdened mixing bowl like a lawn sprinkler on a rampage, those ingredients had no desire to come together and make cookies. Feverishly working to remedy the situation and add more of the dry goods with no rhyme, reason, or measuring, things only got worse with every haphazard addition. The dough was unsalvageable; a depressing lump of lurid green goo that no one in their right mind would want to consume.

So, to all of my friends and loved ones, these are the cookies that you should have received this holiday season:

Can you accept an IOU, and the (successful, small batch) recipe, instead?

Minted Matcha Wreaths

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
4 Ounces (1/2 Package) Vegan “Cream Cheese”
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 3/4 Teaspoon Matcha Powder
1 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract
1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Garbanzo Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder

Decorative White Sugar Crystals, or Turbinado Sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheet with silpats or parchment paper. Set aside.

In your stand mixer with the paddle attachment installed, thoroughly cream together the margarine, “cream cheese,” sugar, and matcha, so that the mixture is homogeneous. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure that everything is incorporated. Add in both extracts, mix to combine, and set aside.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together all of the remaining dry goods for the cookies so that the ingredients are well-distributed throughout the mixture. Slowly add them to the stand mixer, incorporating them in 2 or 3 separate additions. The resulting batter with be very thick, and it may seem like it’s not going to come together, but just be patient; Do not, under and circumstances, add any extra liquid!

Once you achieve a cohesive dough, place a few mounds of it into your spritz cookie gun, which should already have the design you desired installed (the wreath shape, if you want to keep with the intended theme here.) Squeeze out cookies as directed by the manufacturer of the gun, reload when you run out of dough, and repeat. Lightly sprinkle decorative sugar on top of the cookies.

Bake for 8 – 12 minutes, until no long “wet” looking on top and the cookies look solid, with just the vaguest hint of golden color around the edges. Be sure to pull them before they become too brown, or you’ll loose the effect of having pretty green wreaths.

Let the cookies cool on the sheets for at least 10 minutes, and then completely on a wire rack.

Makes 40 – 50 Cookies

Printable Recipe

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