BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Failing at Preparedness

Blame it on an intoxicating emotional cocktail of stress, fear, and hunger, but there are no two ways around it: I deserve a big fat “F” in storm readiness. Like most people in the tri-state area, my time before Super Storm Sandy hit was spent frantically stocking up on food, gasoline, and low-tech entertainment like library books (remember those archaic things?) in case the hurricane truly was as bad as threatened. Furiously running at full capacity to not lose my shit in the middle of a swamped grocery store, my overloaded brain failed to consider each purchase in a truly rational light. Canned goods were fantastic, soups and dried meals could be heated over the gas range, but the double dip on washed, bagged greens? The attractively priced frozen puff pastry? The full case of almond milk Greek yogurt? Hate to ruin the suspense, but those hasty acquisitions proved poor purchases in short time.

Even without power, I held out hope that it would be a quick recovery. Wires came down right at the end of our sparsely populated dead end street and the damage was extensive, but we had been relatively lucky in past disasters. Keeping fridge and freezer doors tightly shut, it should have been easy to wait it out and return to normal life in no time. Days turned into the darkest nights imaginable, back into overcast days, rinse and repeat. The kitchen remained silent, without the comforting hum of appliances or crackling radiators. All that was left was the awful wind, whipping more gently now, but just as cruelly as ever.

Like a sick magic trick, those delicate, frilly salad greens transformed into a murky sludge pooling at the bottom of the bag. Many of the other well-meaning but badly executed purchases met similar fates; never before had I seen such a kaleidoscope of mold on a single cut lemon. With nothing left to cook, little that anyone cared to eat, and the days growing increasingly frigid, it was time to abandon ship.

Near the end of the nightmare, as temperatures dipped below freezing, we sought shelter with our incredibly generous, hospitable extended family a few towns away. Easily the best outcome of a bad situation, things certainly felt far less desperate when wrapped in a cloak of warm air, bright light, and wifi. There aren’t words enough to express just how grateful I am that they would unhesitatingly take in all four of us girls (myself, my sister, my mom, and my Isis.) Instead of fumbling through awkward and insufficient “thank you’s,” it was best to manifest that sentiment into something edible, of course.

Dangerously ripe bananas sitting on the counter were the catalyst, further fleshed out by available ingredients and the need for low-impact prep work in an unfamiliar kitchen. Fully enmeshed in all things pie thanks to the upcoming cookbook, that shallow glass pan was the first thing that made sense in so many painful days.

Bananas and chocolate, uncomplicated and unfussy, there would have been no recipe nor record if not for the rave reviews. Silky ganache lightened by the fruity accents and brightened with a light sprinkle of sea salt to finish, it seemed unremarkable at first, but now will never be forgotten. In fact, considering how the whole experience has forced us all to reevaluate the meaning of being thankful, I have a feeling that this may become our family’s new Thanksgiving pie for many years to come.

Frankenstorm Pie (AKA Banana Ganache Pie)

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 1/2 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs (About 12 Full Rectangle Sheets)
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

Banana Ganache Filling:

4 Medium-Sized Ripe Bananas
3 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
2 Cups (12 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Vanilla or Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Coarse Sea Salt

To make the crust, break up the graham crackers into smaller pieces before pulsing in a food processor until very finely ground. The resulting crumbs should be about the consistency of coarse almond meal. Pick out any larger pieces and re-process as needed.

Drizzle the melted margarine into the crumbs, and stir thoroughly to moisten the ground cookies. The mixture should be capable of sticking together when pressed.

Transfer the mix to a 9-inch round pie pan, and use lightly moistened fingers to firmly press it down on the bottom and along the sides. Use the bottom of a flat measuring cup or drinking glass for smoother edges.

For the filling, toss the peeled bananas into the food processor or blender, and thoroughly puree along with the agave and vanilla. Meanwhile, place the margarine, chocolate chips, and non-dairy milk in a microwave-safe dish and heat for about 1 minute. Stir well to smooth out the mixture and allow any remaining chips to fully melt. Reheat at intervals of 20 seconds if necessary, stirring well after each one.

Transfer the melted chocolate into the blender or food processor, and puree once more to fully integrate. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary to ensure that everything is incorporated. Once completely smooth, pour the filling into your prepared crust, smooth out the top, and sprinkle very lightly with a pinch of coarse sea salt.

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving, or until set.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Around the World in 80 Plates: Florence, Italy

Talk about a wild ride- After gradually traveling towards warmer, more exotic destinations, the next logical stop was certainly not the one we made. In fact, my expectations couldn’t have been further from Florence, Italy, but that is precisely our destination this week! Back to Europe we go, to a cuisine that most Americans are not only well acquainted with, but can practically call their own. Rather than the heavy pastas and red sauces commonly thought of as generic “Italian food,” however, Tuscan cooking has a distinctly different flair. Harkening back to peasant cooking, there’s no room for fancy flourishes or haute gourmet dishes here. With great difficulty, I reigned in my plated dessert impulses, swearing up and down to keep this inspired recipe as simple as possible. Something without a half-dozen components, crazy ingredients, or labor-intensive preparations; No funny stuff allowed. Conjuring up faded memories of the graceful architecture and warm, gentle sunshine from my last visit nearly a decade ago, I could distinctly recall that the clean, bright, and unfussy flavors of the food itself was what made it so good.

Thrilled by the challenge, it was nonetheless a struggle. It would be so good with a sauce! What about a crunchy crumb topping? Oh, these should be individual, deconstructed presentations! Though enticingly aromatic fresh out of the oven, it just seemed so plain, so boring. The ideas kept flowing, tempting with different ways to dress it up should all else fail. But with one bite, those thoughts evaporated like the steam wafting from each warm slice. Simple was perfect.

Strawberries and tomatoes, though seemingly an odd couple, bring out the best in each other for both sweet and savory preparations. Just as comfortable together in a salad as this free-form pie, the savory, gently acidic bite of the tomatoes serves to accentuate the sweetness of the berries. Just like a pinch of salt can make any dessert pop, the combination of these apparently discordant tastes, in the right balance, creates a more complex and satisfying dish overall. Focused on featuring these key players and nothing else, I further intensified their basic flavors by first roasting them, concentrating their inherent sweetness and tartness, before baking the bright red jam into a flaky, sugar-sprinkled crust.

“Rustic” is one of my least favorite words in the English language, applied to everything from house decor to clothing, but especially food. One might be tempted to describe the humble galette as such, but first consider all of the love and care that goes into each pastry. They may not be fancy, but every single element is keenly attended to, making sure they taste their absolute best. Simple shouldn’t mean plain, dull, or forgettable. Especially when this unusual dessert is topped with finely shredded basil for the ultimate herbaceous finishing touch, it’s hard to top it- Except with a single scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream, perhaps.

Will the chefs also keep it simple when they visit Florence, Italy? Tune in to Bravo this coming Wednesday at 10/9c to find out!

Roasted Strawberry-Tomato Galette

Basic Single Pie Crust, Chilled
Vegan “Egg” Wash
Turbinado Sugar

Filling:

1 Pound Fresh Strawberries, Hulled and Halved
10 Ounces Whole Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
1 Vanilla Bean, Split and Seeds Scraped
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper

4 – 6 Leaves Fresh Basil, Fine Chiffonade (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and pull out an 11 x 7-inch rectangular baking dish.

Toss together all of the ingredients for the filling, saving the vanilla bean pods for another application. (Best use: Make some vanilla sugar!) Spread the sugared fruits out inside your baking dish, making sure that everything is in one even layer. Bake for 60 – 65 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so. After about 20 minutes, the mixture will become very juicy- Don’t panic, this is a good thing! Continue cooking until the excess liquid thickens, becoming syrupy, and the fruit is fairly jam-like in consistency. Cool completely before proceeding.

To complete the galette, roll out the unbaked pie crust on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about an 1/8th of an inch in thickness, as round as you can possibly make it. Don’t fret if it’s a bit misshapen; that will only add to the charm. Transfer the flat circle of crust to a silpat- or parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and pile your jammy roasted strawberries and tomatoes in the center. Spread the filling out evenly in the middle, leaving a border of about 2 inches clean. Fold over the sides to contain the filling, and lightly brush the exposed crust with you “egg” wash of choice. Sprinkle lightly with turbinado sugar.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 – 40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling bubbly. Don’t fret if some of the juices spill out of the sides, as there will still be plenty within. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before topping with a light touch of fresh basil, if desired, and serve immediately while still warm.

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.


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Pi by Day, Pie by Night

For once, Pi Day has lined up beautifully with my baking plans, and I’m not ill-prepared for the holiday like most years past. The trusty recipe index makes no secret of my baking habits, and it’s easy to see that pies are not exactly my go-to dessert. Suddenly though, my kitchen is positively teaming with pies of every color in the rainbow, stuffed into the fridge, freezer, and idling on any vacant counter space too. I can’t yet divulge the details about this influx of pies, but I am grateful that Pi Day allows a little sneak peek into this next project I’ve only just embarked on. Rest assured, there will be much, much more pie to come…

New York Cheesecake Pie

Mahalopeño Pie

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Pie


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Pop Culture

Hamentaschen are unarguably the dessert du jour for Purim, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for creative interpretation. Iron out the corners, add a lollipop stick handle for grab-and-go fun, and you’d get these stunningly simple pie pops.  Between the tender crust and fruity center, what are they but miniature, triangular pies, after all?  Familiar fillings with small twists liven up the standard pastry, sure to satisfy the traditional and adventurous palate alike. Not to mention, the downsized format is perfect for portion control.

Filling options are truly limitless, but I do have three suggestions to get you started.

Creamy chocolate mousse is a fool-proof pick for any crowd, possessing a richness and depth of flavor unexpected from such a simple preparation.   Pecan pie, that classy southern belle, meets with the decidedly northern delight of maple syrup.  Crunchy, nutty, sweet and salty, this study in contrasts comes together harmoniously in each bite.  Finally, the last filling is not one to share with the kids, but a treat for the adults to fight over instead.  Tender pieces of ripe pear are gently simmered in and infused with cider and red wine before being stuffed inside those flaky pastry cases.   Family-style pies can only dream of being this elegant and fun all at once.

A few months stand in the way of this fun holiday, so you still have plenty of time to dream and scheme up something new. Hit the links for the aforementioned recipes, and check out the Maple-Pecan filling below…

Maple-Pecan Filling:

1/4 Cup Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
Pinch Salt
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
3/4 Cup Pecan Pieces
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, vigorously whisk together the maple syrup, non-dairy milk, salt, and cornstarch, so that there are no lumps of starch remaining. Cook until the mixture comes up to a lively bubble, whisking constantly so that nothing sticks or burns. Once fully boiling and significantly thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the pecan pieces and vanilla. Cool completely before baking into pie pops.

Proceed as per the instructions in the pie crust recipe.

Printable Recipe

[Written for Joy of Kosher Magazine]


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Smooth as Silk Pie

Any given morning can effortlessly and instantly descend into all-out chaos. The relentless push to check more to-do’s off my never ending list growing stronger as the clock ticks away the hours, it can take quite a feat to stop me in my tracks. Despite the monstrous bulk of the bright white carton plunked on the door step not too long ago, had it not been placed squarely in my path, blocking re-entry into the house after one of many grocery runs, I can’t promise I would have found it that same day.

Wrestling the cardboard box inside with precisely zero grace, fumbling to cut through the tape, and finally managing to wedge the styrofoam cooler out, an embarrassment of riches awaited me. Vegan Greek-style coconut yogurt, in plain and vanilla, in great quantity. Enough to eat, and bake with; An impressive number, knowing my appetite for the flavored varieties already.

For a hectic day, a simple yet satisfying dessert was in order. Chocolate pie, ready in a flash, and healthy enough to justify one generous, large wedge per person. Inspired by the wholly decadent French silk pie, this is a less sweet, less rich, and far less guilt-inducing version that you could possibly get away with eating for breakfast. At least I hope so, because that’s what I did.

Greek Silk Pie

1 9-Inch Pie Crust, Homemade or Store-Bought, Blind-Baked and Cooled

3 Ounces Unsweetened Chocolate
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
3 Tablespoons Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
Pinch Salt
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 6-Ounce Containers Greek-Style Vanilla Coconut Yogurt, Divided

Begin by melting down the chocolate either in a double-boiler or in the microwave, nuking at intervals of 30 seconds and stirring well until smooth. Set aside and let cool for at least 15 minutes.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, thoroughly cream together the margarine and sugar as if you were making cookies, until light and fluffy. Beat in the cocoa, salt, coffee powder, and vanilla, followed by one of the containers of Greek “yogurt.” Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and mix well. Don’t worry if the mixture looks grainy at this point.

Add in the melted chocolate, and whip on high for 3 minutes. Slowly incorporate the final container of “yogurt,” and then resume beating the filling on high speed for an additional 2 – 3 minutes, until smooth.

Pour the filling into your prepared pie crust, and tap it lightly on the counter to release any air bubbles that may be trapped within, and smooth down the top evenly. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.

Top slices with a generous dollop of vegan whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Busted by the Passover Police

Not a thing gets past you guys, my dear, astute readers. Rest assured, I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on anyone, but somehow it managed to slip past my grasp that limoncello is made with vodka, and yes, vodka is in fact made with grain, rendering it chametz for Passover. Doh! Though this oversight can happily be corrected by simply substituting lemon juice for the alcohol, nothing could correct the composition of my finished cheesecake bites. A new dessert was needed for the approaching seder, and soon. So I took to the kitchen and made a lavish semi-freddo, a beautiful thing with ribbons of chocolate and emerald green pistachios… Using cornstarch (corn is considered kitniyot.) Strike two.

Despite the fact that I was bat miztvahed eons ago, I sure do suck at being Jewish.

Not one to give up, though, it was back to the drawing board. Frantically scrambling to mix and match the odd ingredients on hand into something both delicious and kosher, it seemed there was no good resolution in sight… Until I fell upon the leftovers from an experimental whipped creme. Made merely from nuts, this was just the ticket.

Folded in with ample amounts of melted bittersweet chocolate and fresh strawberry puree, this fluffy filling was right at home on top of a thin layer of fresh, sliced strawberries, all in an almond meal and cocoa crust. Nothing wheat-y, grain-y, or otherwise offensive here! Fingers crossed, I think that this one will finally appease the Passover police.

Happy Pesach!

Edited, because I woudn’t want to anger the hungry hordes…. I wasn’t planning on posting the recipe, since it was so last-minute and I’m not prepared to sign off on that whipped topping experiment, but I realized that by substituting a store-bought version, it should work out just as well. So, consider this an extra-special little Passover gift!

Strawberry-Chocolate Mousse Pie

Cocoa Crust:

1 1/2 Cups Almond Meal
1/4 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar

Strawberry and Chocolate Mousse Filling:

1 Cup Fresh Strawberry Puree*
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
Pinch Salt
12 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 10-Ounce Carton Whippable Vegan Cream
1/2 – 1 Cup Sliced Fresh Strawberries

*To make strawberry puree, just take about 1/2 pound of fresh or frozen and thawed strawberries, and blend them into smithereens in your food processor or blender. Strain, if desired (I was in a rush and didn’t; I don’t think the finished pie suffered because of it.)

For the crust, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly oil a 9-inch round pie pan. Mix together all of the crust ingredients in a large bowl, and transfer the well-blended mixture to you prepared pan. Use your fingers and the palms of your hands to smoothly press it into the bottom and up the sides, making sure there are no bare patches. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the top edges are slightly deeper brown. Set aside and let cool.

Meanwhile, you can start to get the filling together. In a large, microwave safe dish, combine the strawberry puree, agave, salt, and chopped chocolate. Microwave for 1 – 2 minutes, stirring thoroughly at 30 second intervals, until completely melted and smooth. Set aside for the time being to let cool.

Dump the whippable “cream” into the bowl of your stand mixer, and whip on high speed for 3 – 4 minutes, until its about tripled in volume, light and fluffy. Take a dollop out and stir it into the chocolate mixture, just to lighten it up a bit. Now, move half of the remaining whipped “cream” and place it in the bowl of chocolate mix. Use a wide spatula to gently fold it in, being careful not to knock out the air bubbles. Add in the remainder of the whipped “cream,” and fold once more.

Evenly cover the bottom of the baked crust with sliced strawberries, and then spoon the finished chocolate mousse on top. Decorate the edges with additional sliced strawberries, if desired.

Serves 8 – 12

Printable Recipe


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If You Can’t Take the Heat…

…Then don’t cook with chipotles. Spice is one thing; those distinctive flavors and gentle warmth make cooking come to life, adding a spark that simply cannot be replaced. Chilies, however, are on a whole different playing field, and the threat of their taste bud-obliterating burn has kept me far away for as long as I’ve been cooking. Pick just one wrong, innocent-looking little capsicum, and you’ll pay dearly for hours to come. My reluctance was only reinforced when a venture in chili making went awry after using a whole can of chipotles in adobo sauce in a batch meant to feed six… To call it inedible would be kind.

And yet, for ages it seems, one lone can of those very chipotles remained in the pantry, quietly waiting to be released from their aluminum prison and start some fires. After studiously avoiding them for perhaps a year or so, curiosity (and frugality; as if they would ever go to waste!) got the best of me. Armed with a can opener and a plenty of vanilla ice cream to extinguish the burn, it was time to push the limits and see how these hot peppers behaved… In dessert.

Maybe I’ve spent a few too many late nights watching Alton Brown, but suddenly, the sound of chipotle mashed sweet potatoes became too attractive to put out of mind without a second thought. Presenting such a dish to my straight-up, butter- and cream- mashed potato family would be flat out heresy, so a different approach with clearly needed. Dialing back on the chipotles so that they provided just the slightest tingle on the tongue, a gentle after burn, if you will, their intensity is further tempered by the soothing contrast of brown sugar and rich coconut milk. Better yet, a thin base of dark chocolate adds depth to the dessert, and adds appeal for those who aren’t big on pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Yes, this one is different indeed- Just try a bite for yourself!

Sure, it may not look like a traditional pie, but with filling this good, I wanted to really pile it on, and a standard pie pan simply couldn’t accommodate my ideal proportions. And of course, spice is a matter of preference, so if you’re a real chili-head, go ahead and pack it in, but beware; The difference between 1/2 of and 1 whole chipotle is astounding.

Chocolate Chipotle Sweet Potato Pie

Chocolate Crust:

1 Cup Chocolate Wafer Cookie Crumbs
3/4 Cup Almond Meal
2 Tablespoons Natural Cocoa Powder
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted

1 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Chipotle Sweet Potato Filling:

2 Cups Roasted Sweet Potato Puree*
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 – 1 Small Chipotle, Canned in Adobo Sauce
1 Teaspoon Adobo Sauce
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Cup Tapioca Starch
1 Cup Coconut Milk
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Coconut Whipped Creme
Chocolate Shavings or Curls

*To get roasted sweet potato puree, crank up your oven to 400 degrees. Peel and roughly dice two medium – large sweet potatoes, and toss with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle very lightly with coarse sea salt, and bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until the pieces are fork-tender and lightly browned around the edges. Let cool, and puree to a completely smooth consistency in your food processor or blender. Alternately, you could use canned sweet potato or even pumpkin puree.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease a 9-inch round springform pan.

Beginning with the crust, combine the cookie crumbs, almond meal, cocoa powder, and sugar in a large bowl. Pour in the melted margarine or coconut oil, and mix thoroughly, until all of the crumbs are moistened and will stick together when pressed. Transfer this mixture into your prepared pan, and use lightly moistened hands or the flat bottom of a measuring cup to smooth it out, pressing it evenly into the base of the pan. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until it no longer appears shiny on top. Immediately after removing the crust from the oven, sprinkle it evenly with your chocolate chips, and let them sit for a moment to soften and become melted. Use a spatula to smooth them out over the crust, to form a fairly consistent layer. Set aside.

Moving on to the filling, simply place all of the ingredients (starting with the lesser amount of chipotle) in your food processor or blender, and pulse to combine. Pause and scrape down the sides of the work bowl as needed, to make sure that everything is getting incorporated, until the filling mixture is completely smooth and homogeneous. Taste for seasoning, and add in more chipotle (or even adobo sauce, if that’s not enough for you) as desired. The heat does tone down a bit after being baked, but not too much, so go easy on those spicy little peppers! Once you’re satisfied with the level of spice, pour the sweet potato mix on top of your prepared crust, and smooth out the top.

Tap the pan a few times on the counter to release any air bubbles before sliding it into the oven. Bake for 20 – 28 minutes, until the edges are set but the center still looks wobbly, much like a cheesecake. Let cool completely before moving the pie into the fridge to cool. Only after it is thoroughly chilled can you top it with the coconut whipped creme and chocolate shavings. Release the ring from the springform pan and and serve! And yes, if you added just a touch too much chipolte, a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream does help tame the flame.

Printable Recipe

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