BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Savoring Chocolate

Chocolate goes with everything, or so the enthusiasts proclaim, and for once I’m not here to argue. Though not a rabid chocoholic myself, a square or two of good dark chocolate is frequently the emergency fuel of choice, staving off everything from common hunger pangs to emotional flights of fancy. No stranger to the great range of flavors that can be coaxed from the humble cacao, my greatest disappointment is that fewer feel the need to explore beyond the most commonly accepted flavor pairings. More adventurous confections are beginning to emerge, giving rise to bars dusted with curry, sprinkled with popped amaranth, or blended with beer, but all of these treats still land firmly on the dessert menu. Enough with the candies and confections, just for once! I would challenge those who see chocolate only as a source of sweet gratification to take a walk on the savory side.

To call them “cookies” may be a bit deceptive, but their construction has much more in common with your standard shortbread than any cracker or chip I’ve ever known. Ultra-dark, dry, and slightly bitter chocolate chunks put to rest any preconceived notions of classic chewy chocolate chip cookies- Switching up cacao percentages alone makes an incredible world of difference! Of course, such a small adjustment didn’t satisfy my craving, which is where the unconventional addition of oil-cured olives comes into play. Yes, you heard right: Olives. Briny, rich with oil, vaguely fruity, and very concentrated in their inherent olive goodness thanks to the slow drying process, this salty addition serves to brighten the chocolate while adding a surprising pop of flavor. Catching eaters off-guard at first bite, it won’t be a taste for everyone, but a delight for adventurous eaters seeking something new.

Best served as an appetizer or snack, these delicate cookies shine their brightest when paired with a glass of dry red wine and an equally salty olive-infused hummus on the side. Don’t be afraid to really drive the theme home with a robust tapenade. Trust me, that intense dark chocolate can stand up to anything you throw at it. The saying really is true; chocolate goes with everything, or perhaps more accurately, everything goes with chocolate.

Savory Chocolate-Olive Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Oil-Cured Olives, Pitted and Chopped
2.5 Ounces 90% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Chopped
2 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment and thoroughly cream together the margarine and sugar, until the mixture is homogenous. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, tarragon, pepper, and salt, making sure that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout. Add in the chopped olives and chocolate, tossing gently to coat all of the pieces with flour. Break up any clumps of olives that may remain sticking together so that they’re equally blended throughout each finished cookie. Starting the mixer back up on the lowest setting, slowly incorporate the dry goods in two additions, alternating with the olive oil, until all the remaining ingredients are used.

The dough should be just moist enough to stick together in a coherent ball when pressed; don’t be tempted to incorporate extra liquid! Gather it all up and form it into a log about 6 – 8 inches long. You can choose to either keep your cookies rounded or square off the edges by gently dropping the log on the counter at regular intervals. It’s merely a stylistic choice, so feel free to play around with it. Once shaped as desired, wrap the dough log in plastic and place it in your freezer. Allow at least 2 hours for it to chill, or store for up to 3 months before baking.

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

Unwrap the chilled dough, handling it as little as possible to prevent it from warming up, and use a very sharp knife to cut it into slices approximately 1/4 inch in thickness. (The cookies pictured above are admittedly a bit too thick- Don’t go too chunky here or they will be very dry and cloying!) Lay the cookies out with about 1/2 inch in between them on your prepared sheets, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until lightly golden brown.

Let cool completely on the sheets before enjoying or storing in an air-tight container.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Pantry Purge

“Keeping a well stocked pantry” would be a very generous way of describing my penchant for collecting odd ingredients. A certifiable food-shopaholic, any interesting spices, unusual beans, new strains of rice that catch my eye are destined for the cart, no questions asked. Entirely new dishes could be unlocked with that one secret ingredient, and I’ll be damned if I let it slip through my fingers, just because I couldn’t see the final results right then and there. Vegan “skallops“? Sounds crazy, so I’ll take a can! Asafoetida? Translated roughly as “devil’s dug,” that simply sounds too enticing to walk away from. And thus, the pantry shelves at home groan beneath the weight of my bizarre, allegedly edible treasures, a collection of odds and ends that inspire, but fail to make it into the daily rotation.

Come spring, my inner neat freak pops back out of hibernation, and is horrified at the stock pile that’s been accumulating, slowly but steadily, for years. Living in the same home for nearly two decades allows one to hold on to many more possessions of dubious value than you’d think, as I’m now learning. Though the Skallops continue to mystify, horrify, and intrigue me, this latest round of pantry purging still failed to find a proper use for them. Instead, it seemed like a more worthwhile venture to tackle the easy stuff, the pantry staples that have simply overgrown their allotted space. Prepared for either an unannounced party of 30 or the coming apocalypses, whichever comes first, there are plenty of perfectly good foods buried beneath the oddities, and it’s a shame to let them gather dust.

Taking out numerous canned goods and both dried beans and pasta in one dish, my Moroccan-inspired chickpea creation turned out to be the best thing I ate all week. Rather than merely an easy way to “take out the trash,” so to speak, and clear out the pantry, this was a genuinely delicious surprise. Spicy, but more warmly flavored and highly aromatic than merely hot, this is the kind of recipe that a well stocked pantry and spice drawer was made for. A study in contrasting flavors, the salty, briny olives pair beautifully with the gently acidic tomatoes, all blanketed in a thermal blanket of paprika, cumin, and coriander. In such a simple dish, the star players matter immensely, so make sure you have excellent green olives that can pull their weight in this jovial riot of flavors.

Moroccan-Style Olives and Chickpeas

1/4 Cup Olive Oil or Coconut Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Ginger
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Garlic
1 Tablespoon Ground Coriander
1 Tablespoon Ground Cumin
2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Hot Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes, with Juice
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
1 14-Ounce Can Whole, Pitted Green Olives, Drained and Rinsed
4 Cups Cooked Chickpeas
Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste

Zest of 1 Lemon
2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Parsley

Cooked Israeli Couscous, Regular Couscous, or Another Small Pasta or Grain, to Serve

Heat your oil of choice in a medium or large pot over moderate heat on the stove. Add the chopped onion, and saute gently for about 5 minutes to soften. Toss in the garlic and ginger next, and continue to cook, stirring periodically, until the onion begins to take on a light brown, somewhat caramelized color; around 10 minutes more. Next, incorporate all of the spices, from the coriander through cayenne, and stir well. Keep everything in the pot moving so that the spices don’t burn, and saute for an additional 5 minutes to toast and temper them.

Pour in the entire contents of the can of tomatoes, along with the vegetable stock, green olives, and chickpeas. Give it a good mix to distribute all of the ingredients throughout the stew. Turn down the heat to medium-low, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, to allow the chickpeas to take on all that spicy liquid and for the flavors to further meld. Add in a splash of water or additional stock if the liquid seems to evaporate too quickly.

Add salt and pepper to taste, but be careful with the salt- Olives bring a lot of sodium to the party already, so you shouldn’t need more than a pinch.

Serve over a bed of cooked couscous, and top each serving with a pinch of lemon zest and chopped parsley.

Serves 4 – 6

Printable Recipe


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Savor Olive Life

Ever since that fateful day so many years ago, when I discovered the snack platter at a “grown-up” party, and found that pitted olives fit perfectly like little hats on my fingertips, I’ve been an unabashed fan. What’s not to love? Compact morsels of briny, salty, and rich flavor, they’re just as suitable as a condiment as they are an hors d’oeuvre. Picky eater that I was though, my appreciation for olives was not all-inclusive; my love was reserved only for black olives, while the green variety received only the cold shoulder. Another nonsensical food prejudice for sure, this one had to be tackled head-first, which is why the offer to review a small selection of Lindsay Olives couldn’t have come at a better time. Having been independently buying the seasoned black olives for months already, I knew this would be the best shot I had at finding a place in my heart for green olives too.

It became quickly apparent that this wouldn’t be a difficult task. Mottled green with brown speckles, these shiny and earthy ovals have a very mildly briny flavor- Mellow, but with a certain smoothness and an unexpected buttery undertone. A very agreeable olive, it hits all the right salty and addictive notes, without being the least bit aggressive. It pains me to have searched high and low for these olives ever since that first sample, to no avail. After trying another brand of green olives and being positively repulsed by those tasteless, unpleasantly crunchy marbles, I can definitely say that not all olives are created equal.

While still possessing an ample supply however, I couldn’t help but play a bit with my bounty. Lucking out on a small stash of eight-ball zucchini meant stuffed squash was on the menu, and olives sounded like the perfect accent flavor for the filling. Greek-inspired seasonings pull together this unusual combination of olives, white beans, artichokes, and spinach beautifully, and set these stuffed zukes apart from the rest. To lend more of a fresh, summery flavor, they would also be fantastic with a smattering of vegan pesto instead of my suggested spices. Don’t be afraid to play around with this one- It would also be quite excellent with black olives, if you haven’t yet found the green olive of your dreams.

Stuffed Eight-Ball Zucchini

6 – 8 Round (Eight-Ball) Zucchini
1 Cup Cooked White Beans
1 Cup Pitted Green Olives
1/2 Cup Chopped White Onion
1/2 Cup Marinated Artichoke Hearts, Drained and Roughly Chopped
2 Cups Packed Fresh Spinach
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
Pinch Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Dill
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Marinara Sauce or Your Favorite Tomato Sauce, to Serve

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Cut a thin slice off the tops of the zucchini, including the stems, and either reserve for garnish or discard. Using a small spoon with a sharp edge (such as a grapefruit spoon) or a melon baller, scoop out the fleshy innards, being careful not to scrape the walls of the zucchini too thin, and toss it into your food processor.

To the food processor, add in all of the remaining ingredients except for the salt, and give it a whirl. Don’t process it until completely smooth, but pulse slowly until everything is broken down and the mixture is pleasingly chunky. Give it a taste before adding salt; because the olives have so much salt to them already, you may not need it at all.

Generously mound the stuffing in the hollow zucchini cups, and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the filling is lightly browned and the zucchinis themselves are fork-tender. They’re delicious served hot or at room temperature, alongside a smattering if your favorite tomato sauce.

*You could very happily use standard, long zucchini here, too. Just split them lengthwise, remove the interiors as before, and par-bake them, empty, for 10 – 15 minutes (depending on size) before filling and baking as previously instructed.

Serves 6 – 8

Printable Recipe

PS, if you really want to up the olive ante, enjoy this meal with a dirty martini!

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