BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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The Cold Shoulder

July? Already? Each new month always seem to sneak up out of no where, unannounced and premature, startling me out of my never-ending daydream and back into the present moment. Somehow, the arrival of July doesn’t feel quite so jarring this time around, and yet there’s considerable dissonance between the calendar date and the weather at hand. Oh, it’s been gloriously sunny, aside from the average fog-smothered mornings, but never has a mid-summer month run in with such a cool breeze on its tail. San Francisco summers are unlike any other; I came prepared with plenty of layers, but I still doubted that I would need my autumnal leatherette jacket this late into the year. Thank goodness I suspended that disbelief at least long enough to pack it, since it’s become a constant companion on my brisk campus-bound commutes.

While the rest of the country prepares to celebrate our independence with the standard round of backyard barbeques, pool parties, and fireworks, I’m still struggling to get into a properly jubilant mood. How could anyone think of stripping down to a bathing suit when the thermometer barely registers in the low 60’s on some days? Where do city folk all hide their grills, and how do they not set off the fire alarms every single time a tofu pup hits the searing metal grates? Furthermore, how do I make it back home from the fireworks when the Muni is guaranteed to become missing in action, just in my moment of greatest need? While my plans remain up in the air, it’s clear to see that they’ll end up falling on the more nontraditional side of the tracks.

One thing that can never be altered about any proper 4th of July party, even for a party of one, is the ice cream. I don’t care if I found myself in a freak snow storm come early July- There would still be ice cream on my menu. Trouble is, what with all the festivities and rampant jubilation, it can be tough to find yourself anchored by an unwieldy cupful of frozen confection. This is a job that calls for bite-sized, chocolate-covered, flavor-filled ice cream truffles.

Inspired by a generous gift of shelled pistachios straight from the nutty experts at Diamond of California, these glorious green gems couldn’t be simpler to prepare, and are the prefect offering for a party of any size. Best of all, they can be made well in advance, so all you have to do on the day of celebration is bust them out and look like a total ice cream-churning pro. The creamy emerald interiors are sophisticated enough to suit the most discerning palates, while the shatteringly crisp chocolate coating adds sweetness and whimsy that is sure to appeal to a younger generation of food critics in training.

Pistachio Ice Cream Truffles

Pistachio Ice Cream:

2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Cup Shelled, Toasted Pistachios
1/3 Cup Fresh Baby Spinach, Packed (Optional, for Color)
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
2 Tablespoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla
1/8 Teaspoon Fiori Di Sicilla, or a Tiny Pinch of Orange Zest

Chocolate Coating:

6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil

To prepare the ice cream base, simply drop all of the ingredients, except for the two extracts, into your blender or food processor. A high-speed blender is your best bet for the smoothest texture, but with enough patience and a bit of straining, any model can make do. Blend on high for 5 – 6 minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if necessary, until the mixture is thoroughly pureed, without a single fragment of pistachio to be found.

Pour the smooth mixture into a medium saucepan and set on the stove over moderate heat. Whisking frequently, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan to prevent anything from sticking and scorching, bring the liquid up to a gentle boil. Once bubbles begin to burst on the surface with increasing regularity, turn off the heat. Stir in the vanilla and Fiori di Sicilia last. Let the base cool to room temperature before moving it into the fridge to chill thoroughly; about 3 hours.

Churn the cooled base in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the soft ice cream into an air-tight container, and let it “cure” in the freezer for at least 3 more hours before scooping out your truffles.

Use small ice cream scoop to make neat little rounds of ice cream, placing them on a silpat- or parchment paper-lined baking sheet that can fit easily into the freezer. Scoop all of your truffle balls and quickly move the whole baking sheet back into the freezer. You want the interiors to be solidly frozen before attempting to dip them, lest they melt once they hit the hot chocolate coating. Allow at least 3 more hours (yes, again!) or let them chill overnight before proceeding.

Finally, to finish the truffles, heat the chocolate and coconut oil in a microwave-safe container for about 60 seconds. Stir thoroughly until all the chips have completely melted. Use a fork to quickly submerge the frozen ice cream balls into the liquid chocolate and pull them out again, working as fast as you can. Place them back on their silpats and immediately return the baking sheet to the freezer upon finishing. They can be eaten immediately, or stored in an air-tight container for up to 2 months.

Makes a Scant Quart of Ice Cream; 2 – 3 Dozen Truffles

Printable Recipe


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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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Sweets for the Sweet Tooth

Extreme sweet teeth are a dominant trait in my family, but it tends to manifest itself in different ways. For example, both my mom and I are happier with carefully composed desserts and baked goods, complex with layers of cake, creamy fillings, and perhaps a bit of a crunch hidden somewhere, but neither my sister nor my dad would likely be as pleased. They have straight-up sugar teeth; the sort of teeth that crave pure, unadulterated sweetness, and are much more likely to drift towards a candy shop than a bakery come dessert time.

While I will admit that I tend to cater to my own tastes when dreaming up new recipes, I do aim to please, so this little sugar-bomb was developed with the other half of my family in mind.

Simple and super-sweet, just a tiny square of this maple fudge should satisfy even the most intense sugar cravings. Homemade candies in general are always a favorite for gift-giving, and this decadent option would certainly fit the bill. Throw in a pinch of spices to shake things up a bit if you’d like, but the unique and irreplaceable flavor of maple is a treat enough to me.

Maple Fudge

2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 1/4 Cups Grade B Maple Syrup
1/3 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Chopped and Toasted Walnuts
Pinch Salt

Lightly grease an 8 x 8 inch square pan and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar, maple syrup, and non-dairy milk, and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Once the mixture comes to a full boil, stop stirring, and insert your candy thermometer. Continue to cook, swirling the pan instead of stirring if necessary, until it comes to about 238 – 240 degrees (soft ball stage). Remove the pan from the heat, and let it sit until it has cooled to 145 degrees. At that point, the top of the candy may have crystallized, and the whole mixture should be somewhat thicker, albeit grainy. Incorporate the margarine and continue to beat it vigorously with a wooden spoon for about 10 full minutes- You’ll know that you’re doing it right when it feels like your arm is about to fall off. The mixture should become thicker, lighter in color, and less glossy. Beat in the nuts and salt, and spread it into your prepared pan, pressing it into the corners and smoothing down the top with a spatula. Let sit for at least 3 hours before cutting into very, very small squares. Just a bite will satisfy!

Never refrigerate, or the fudge will become damp and mushy. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Makes 36 – 45 Small Squares

Printable Recipe


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A Cookie in Every Oven

If ever there was an ideal time to bake cookies, it would be now. At this very moment, cookie swaps are happening across the nation, and gifts of cookie platters and cookie baskets are being piled high. Rainbows of doughs are rolling out on kitchen counters, a world of flavored batters are being dropped onto baking sheets, and scores of every shape a cookie cutter can create are cooling on wire racks. Just imagine what it would look like if we could take a peek at the combined efforts of all those holiday bakers, hard at work. The scent of sugar rising into the brisk air and cookbook pages encrusted in flour, it just wouldn’t be Chanukah or Christmas without a full menu of cookies planned for hungry friends and family to devour.

As much as I may crave the classics, the desire to create something new and exciting always take the reins when assembling ingredients, and no two cookie trays ever end up alike. Simple, straight-forward bakery-style chocolate chip cookies are easily my most requested variety, a rare recipe that I do actually follow without variation… Most of the time.

Using the holidays as my license to experiment, I wanted to give the basic idea a bit of a savory, salty twist, to balance out the sweeter items sure to follow. An unexpected hint of herbaceous rosemary adds an unexpected but entirely welcome change of pace, further enhanced by the natural nuttiness of crunchy toasted pecans. Inspired by the addictive party snack of spiced rosemary nuts, I couldn’t help but keep the theme going and tossing in a generous dose of spice here as well. Lending a bright kick just as the taste of chocolate and pecans begin to fade, it’s the element that makes you go back for just one more bite, trying to pinpoint what that enchanting flavor was.

It’s certainly not your grandma’s or your mom’s chocolate chip cookie, but that’s probably a good thing, too. With so many options already available around this time of year, why not take the opportunity to try something a bit different?

Spiced Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Tablespoon Fresh Rosemary (or 1 Teaspoon Dried), Finely Chopped or Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans
1/2 Cup (3 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Chunks

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, blend together the melted margarine, both sugars, maple syrup, and vanilla until smooth and fully combined.

Sift the flour into a separate bowl, and add in all of the spices, rosemary, baking soda, and salt. Lightly toss both the pecan pieces and chocolate chips in, to coat with the flour.

Add the dry goods into the stand mixer in two additions, being careful not to overwork the dough but mix it just enough to bring everything together, without any pockets of flour lurking at the bottom. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions so that everything gets incorporated.

Scoop out dough with a medium-sized cookie scoop, or two large spoons in about 3 – 4 tablespoon portions. Give the cookies plenty of space on your prepared baking sheets, leaving at least and inch between blobs. I usually bake only 9 per sheet, to ensure that none of them spread and collide. Flatten the raw cookie dough out lightly with the palm of your hand, so that they’re nice and round, and about 1/2 inch in thickness.

Bake for 12 – 16 minutes, watching closely to make sure that they are just barely golden brown around the edges when you pull the from the oven. They should still look fairly under-baked in the center, to ensure a soft and chewy texture.

Let cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, and then move them off to a wire rack. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week, if they last that long.

Makes 12 – 18 Large Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Dreaming of a Sweet Christmas

No amount of planning ever seems to leave me properly prepared for the holidays, despite mustering all the enthusiasm possible and diligently keeping an eye on the calendar. Days mysteriously grow shorter, schedules fuller, and to further complicate matters, those originally simple plans of mine curiously evolve to become more and more complicated. Getting a head start usually means laying out a detailed list of presents to make, recipes to try, and fun activities to participate in… Which is lost or completely disregarded by the time December actually rolls around. After spending one too many of the last mailing days before Christmas stuck in line at the post office, fighting off the other hordes of procrastinators frantic to make the final cut off, it became clear that my approach wasn’t working.

This year, the plan is to plan less. Stick to simple but nice holiday cards, rather than elaborate gifts with complicated shipping requirements and deadlines. Make whatever recipes strike my fancy, whenever that might happen. Enjoy the holidays whenever they allow, without forcing artificial merriment at every turn. “Low-key” is the mantra of the season- No pressure, no anxiety, no self-flagellation when things don’t work out perfectly. Sounds like a much more enjoyable way to pass the next few weeks, don’t you think?

And just like that, I find myself almost on top of the key points that constantly evaded my grasp the previous year. Greeting cards are done and printing, and the first set of festive sweets has already sprung forth from the oven, seemingly without effort. It may be a push to fit that pending manuscript into the festivities, but at least it doesn’t seem like such a great burden to squeeze into the jam-packed holiday game plan.

It needn’t be a grand holiday, or one to remember above others, even. It just needs to be less than torturous, and adding in a bit of sweetness and good company would be a nice touch, too.

Pistachio Praline Linzer Cookies

Pistachio Praline Paste:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
2 Cups Shelled, Skinned and Toasted Pistachios
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Allow the sugar to cook until it caramelizes to a deep amber color; about 10 – 15 minutes. Quickly add in the pistachios, stir to coat with the hot sugar, and immediately transfer everything out to a silpat or piece of parchment paper. Let cool completely before breaking it into chunks, and tossing the pieces into your food processor, along with the salt and oil. Pulse to break down the brittle to a coarse consistency, and then let the motor run until very smooth. It may take as long as 10 minutes, so be patient. Let cool before using, or store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Linzer Cookies:

1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Almond Meal
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Zest of 1 Orange
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/3 Cup Plain Vegan Greek-Style “Yogurt” or “Sour Cream”
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

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

Cream together the margarine and both sugars until homogeneous and fluffy pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flour, almond meal, baking powder, salt, zest, and ginger, starting the mixer slowly to prevent the dry goods from flying out. Mix briefly before introducing the “yogurt” and vanilla as well. Mix just until a cohesive, smooth dough is formed, and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Press the dough into an even round and roll it out to 1/8th of an inch in thickness.

Use a 2 1/2 inch round cookie cutter to cut out the shapes. Cut out the centers of half of the rounds with a smaller shape of your choice. Transfer the cookies to your prepared sheets, and chill them for 15 minutes before moving them right into the oven. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until just barely golden around the edges. Let cool.

Assemble the linzer cookies by spreading 1 teaspoon of the praline paste on a whole cookie, and topping it with a cut-out cookie. Repeat with remaining cookies, and enjoy.

Makes 52 – 60 Cookies; 26 – 30 Sandwiches

Printable Recipe

Bonus! For a gift that keeps on giving, nothing beats a delicious, tried-and-true recipe from a friend. To share this recipe with someone you love, snatch up the free printable recipe card below. Just set your printer to “scale to fit” your paper, trim the excess as needed, fold down the center, and doodle something on the cover, or paste a photo if you prefer.

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