BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Mochi Madness

Standing outside on the first cold, crisp day of 2014, I could have sworn I heard the distinctive “don…don…don” of a kine (wooden mallet) striking an usu (stone mortar), far off in the distance. Though unlikely, the tradition of making mochi for oshogatsu is so ubiquitous in Japanese culture, it would be unthinkable for anyone immersed in the culture to ignore it. Pounding sweet glutenous rice into submission is no simple task, typically requiring a whole village to pitch in and churn out enough mochi to ring in the new year. Celebrations are based around the ritual and everyone gets something delicious as their reward. Though ozoni soup is the most authentic way to commemorate the turning of the calendar, ensuring good luck and prosperity for the coming months, mochi is the perfect blank canvas for any flavors sweet or savory. Naturally, my inclination is to play up its capacity for creating unique sweet treats.

Forget pounding stubborn grains of rice until your arms ache and your hands throb. This is mochi for the modern baker, dressed up in a rich cloak of chocolate, no less. Mochiko, otherwise known as finely powdered sweet rice flour, makes the process move along much more smoothly- literally. Crossing cultural boundaries and incorporating some unconventional ingredients, the resulting brownies are a curious hybrid of Japanese and American tastes. Shockingly decadent in comparison to the plain white spheres produced from typical methods, these mahogany brown squares are a definite indulgence, which strikes me as a fitting way to kick off a joyful new year. For anyone expecting a standard brownie though, the texture may come as a shock. Chewy with a delightfully bouncy, sticky texture between the teeth, it makes no secret of its glutenous rice foundation. To some who struggles with anything that isn’t either crispy-crunchy or pudding-soft, these may not be the most winning recipe.

For the rest of you adventurous eaters and bakers though, it’s a stunningly simple mash-up that’s long overdue. Have your mochi and enjoy it too, without any of the hard labor (or choking hazards) associated with the original. As a side bonus, these rice flour-based treats are “accidentally” gluten-free, so everyone can start their year on a sweet note!

Mochi Brownies

2 Cups Mochiko
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
9 Ounces (1 1/2 Cups) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 1/2 Cups Plain Vegan Creamer
1 14-Ounce Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Plain or Vanilla Vegan Yogurt
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 9 x 13-inch rectangular baking pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mochiko, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and powder, and salt. Stir until all the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the mixture and set aside.

Place the margarine and 6 ounces (1 cup) of the chocolate chips in a large, microwave-safe container along with half of the creamer. Microwave for a minute, stir well, and then continue heating at 30-second intervals, mixing thoroughly in between each new cycle, until the chocolate has completely melted. Add in the remaining measure of creamer plus the coconut milk, yogurt, and vanilla. Stir until smooth.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry and stir thoroughly with a wide spatula. Don’t worry about over-mixing, since there’s no gluten here that might form. Go ahead and beat the tar out of that batter! Toss in the remaining 3 ounces (1/2 cup) of chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Once there are no lumps remaining, transfer it into your prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 55 – 60 minutes, until dry and slightly crackled on top. The toothpick test won’t be particularly helpful for this brownie, so just trust your intuition when it appears to be done on the surface.

Let cool completely before slicing into bars.

Makes 16 – 24 Brownies

Printable Recipe


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Hop Into the New Year

“Best of” lists and top-twelve countdowns litter the airwaves and blogosphere alike, rehashing the highlights of the passing year on an endless loop. 2012, for better or for worse, was a year of pivotal events that will continue to cast a long shadow over the future of many. Even for those living it, the true meanings of those days are hard to take in, to fully appreciate and turn over rationally in one’s mind. At least on a much smaller scale, it’s safe to say that the successes and celebrations far outnumbered the moments of despair on this little blog, and incredibly, BitterSweet survives to see another year. Still, I’d much rather move forward, onwards and upwards, rather than continue to look back. Shouldn’t we start making new memories to rejoice in right away?

New Year’s Eve is one of the few times I allow myself to be superstitious in the least. Adopting the practices of a dozen different cultures, the momentous occasion is typically observed by a day of cleaning, scrubbing the physical grime and digital disorder out of my life. Kagami mochi is prepared and erected in the kitchen, although never eaten. (Our tradition is to set it on fire a week into the new year, but that’s another story.) Most importantly, of course, are the first few foods, which must be just as full of symbolic luck as they are flavor. Greens are necessary no matter what the course, promising wealth in the form of monetary greens later. Peas and beans swell when cooked, suggesting prosperity. The combination of the two more directly represent health, because what could be more wholesome than greens and beans? I think you see where I’m going with this.

Hoppin’ John, the southern staple, featuring collard greens, black-eyed peas, and rice, has tons of unfulfilled potential. Typically weighed down with pork but light on spices, through my eyes as an outsider, there seemed to be room for improvement. Turning the dish into a creamy, well-balanced risotto, it can play the role of either a side or the star of the show on any dinner table. Incredibly savory and soothing, it’s the perfect heart-warming and rib-sticking dish for these chilly early January days. Whether it actually brings in luck or not for 2013, anyone should feel lucky enough just to steal a bite.

Hoppin’ John Risotto

1 Bunch (About 1 Pound) Fresh Collard Greens, Thoroughly Washed and Dried, Stemmed and Chopped
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup) Black-Eyed Peas, Rinsed and Drained
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil
4 1/2 – 5 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1/2 Medium Red, Orange, or Yellow Bell Pepper, Diced
2 Stalks Celery, Diced
3 – 4 Garlic Cloves, Finely Minced
1 1/2 Cups Sushi Rice*
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine or Water
1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos or Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Dried Bay Leaf
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Liquid Smoke
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

*Purists may cry afoul, but yes, sushi rice is my grain of choice for risotto. Arborio or carnaroli are the “correct” options, but I find sushi rice every bit as creamy, tender, and clean-tasting, not to mention far cheaper.

Begin by prepping all of the vegetables so that it’s a streamlined process to add them all in later. Starting heating the oil and margarine or coconut oil in a large stock pot or saucepan over medium heat. Pour the vegetable stock into a separate saucepan and heat over a second burner on medium heat. Keep this covered, just below a simmer at all times.

Add the chopped onion into the large pot, stirring to coat the the hot fat. Sweat and saute for 2 – 4 minutes, until semitransparent and aromatic, before tossing in the bell pepper, celery, and garlic as well. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 5 – 8 minutes to soften all the vegetables, just barely beginning to brown them around the edges. Add in the rice last, stirring well to coat with the oil and vegetable liquid, for about 2 minutes or until somewhat translucent in appearance.

Deglaze the pan by slowly pouring in the wine or water, carefully scraping up any bits that might be stuck to the bottom. Turn down the heat to medium-low. Add in the coconut milk, liquid aminos or soy sauce, nutritional yeast, and all of the remaining herbs and spices. Bring the liquid up to a simmer, and once it has mostly absorbed into the rice, add in 1 cup of the hot stock. Continue to cook gently, stirring every few minutes to check on the consistency, adding in another 1/2 – 1 cup of the stock as needed. The rice should cook for about 20 – 25 minutes, until tender but creamy. In the final 10 minutes of cooking, incorporate the beans and greens, adding the greens a few handfuls at a time so that they can wilt down and not overflow out of the pot.

Always keep the mixture looking somewhat liquid-y without being soupy; remember, this is not a pilaf where you want dry, distinct grains.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and remove the bay leaf before serving. Enjoy immediately, as the rice will continue to thicken as it cools.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Starting Clean

Early January, the ground coated in a thin veneer of glistening white snow, it’s the calm after the storm. Lights and tinsel come down, discarded gift wrappings are cleared away, and the world returns to a weary, more subdued version of normalcy. Back to work, back to school, back to what ever it was we were ignoring or pretending didn’t have a deadline- It’s an abrupt, harsh transition, alright. Tempted as I am to turn tail and hibernate for the rest of winter, the show must go on, and the gears must continue to grind forward somehow.

Beginning in my own gentle way into 2011, there were no grand parties or late night revelries, and yet a soothing, cleansing sort of recipe for renewal still feels appropriate. Yes, there are still cakes and sweets galore to come (oh, if only you knew my plans…) but for now, a break from complicated fare is more than welcome. Borrowing from the Japanese tradition of nanakusagayu, a simple dish consisting of little more than rice and greens promises wealth, luck, and a healthy, clean start to the new year.

A porridge requiring seven different, distinct greens, this is a dish I shied away from for many years, lacking the creativity to replace the typical Japanese herbs with ones more easily obtainable in the US. Perhaps I cheated a bit, filing leeks, celery, and parsley under the category of full-fledged greens, but they certainly are green-colored, and oh so much more tasty than many other bitter grasses. My version also differs significantly in consistency; rather than a gooey, mushy rice porridge that’s cooked to a slow death, I throw in cooked rice almost at the last minute, keeping the grains whole and distinct, and creating more of a soup in the end. Warming, soothing, quick and brothy, it’s a perfect option for anyone feeling under the weather, too.

Though the greens do wilt down considerably, this recipe still makes a whole lot of food, so you may want to keep the rice one the side for future leftovers, instead of letting it sit and soften in the leftover soup.

Nanakusa-Shiru

1 Medium Leek, Thoroughly Cleaned and Sliced into Half-Moons
2 Stalks Celery, with Leaves, Chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Square Kombu
5 -6 Cups Water
3 – 4 Tablespoons Aka (Red) Miso
4 Cups Cooked Brown Rice
1/2 Pound Fresh Kale, Stemmed and Chopped or Torn
1/2 Pound Fresh Baby Spinach
1/2 Pound Fresh Romaine, Chopped
4 – 5 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Cup Parsley, Roughly Chopped

Toasted Sesame Seeds
Red Pepper Flakes (Optional)

Set a large stock pot on the stove over moderate heat, and add in the leek, celery, garlic, kombu, and water. Bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes, until the garlic has mellowed and the veggies softened. Carefully remove the kombu, and slice it into bite-sized pieces before returning it to the pot.

In a small dish, place the miso paste, and add in a splash of water from the stock pot. Mix well so that the miso is completely dissolved and no lumps remain. Pour the miso liquid back into the pot, and stir to incorporate. Add in the cooked rice, along with all of the remaining greens and herbs. You may need to add the greens in batches, stirring each one in gently until wilted enough to make more room in the soup pot. Cook for just 2 more minutes, and turn off the heat.

Ladle out portions into bowls, including a good amount of broth for each one, and top each serving with a light sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and red pepper flakes as desired.

Serves 8 – 12

Printable Recipe

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