BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Pump[kin] It Up!

Burgers are one of the most reliable staples to be found in any cook’s arsenal. Infinitely adjustable, easily prepared, and universally enjoyed, many satisfying meals both past and present can be attributed to the humble patty.

Watching Labor Day pass right before my eyes, I groaned as I looked back through my archives and spotted this bun-clad beauty just waiting in the wings. A perfect recipe for the backyard barbeques and grilling extravaganzas synonymous with the date, familiar pangs of guilt gripped me as it seemed like a prime opportunity wasted. Created, photographed, and completely devoured in late June, why oh why hadn’t it made it into the spotlight yet? Before the shame could fully settle, I realized that something as versatile as a properly constructed veggie burger was truly timeless, and better yet, the ingredients might even be better suited for autumnal eating.

Pumpkin is the secret ingredient here, like just about every other crazy new edible on the market these days, but before you reach pumpkin overload, consider adding this particular incarnation of everyone’s favorite orange gourd into your diet. Bearing far more than just flavoring or pie spices, these burgers have some real heft thanks to the addition of pumpkin seed protein powder. No additives, fillers, or sweeteners set this particular smoothie staple made by Sprout Living apart from the crowd, making it an ideal ingredient for both sweet and savory recipes. My standard bean burger formula is no slouch when it comes to nutrition, but the pumpkin puree and protein powder ensure instant hunger satisfaction, without sacrificing flavor one bit.

Whether you’re determined to keep the spirit of summer alive or looking to transition into more autumnal foods, this is the recipe for you. Best of all, the finished patties freeze beautifully for even colder days down the road.

[Photo note: I found these awesome "accidentally vegan" store brand pretzel buns at Fresh & Easy, but you can also buy them online from Pretzilla, if you were so inclined.]

Pumpkin Protein Burgers

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Cup Diced Onion
1 Teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cups Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained
1/2 Cup Pumpkin Puree
1 Tablespoon Yellow Mustard
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/2 Cup Pumpkin Seed Protein Powder
Salt and Pepper

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. When shimmering, add in the garlic and onions, sauteing until aromatic and lightly golden brown. This should take no more than 6 – 8 minutes; be careful not to overdo it and burn the garlic. Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar, turn off the heat, and let cool for about 10 minutes minutes.

In a separate bowl, roughly mash the beans with a fork or potato masher. You want to keep the texture fairly coarse so that the burger maintains a satisfying bite. Add in the pumpkin puree, mustard, spices, and herbs, mixing well to incorporate. Once cool enough to handle, introduce the sauteed vegetables and stir once more, introducing the pumpkin seed protein powder as well. Mix thoroughly, making sure that there are no pockets of dry ingredients remaining. It should be soft but manageable; something you can fairly easily mold into patties that will hold their shape. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Measure out between 1/3 – 1/2 cup of the burger mixture for each patty, and form them into round, flat pucks with slightly moistened hands. Space them out evenly on the sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake for 15 minutes, flip, 10 more minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 10 – 15 minutes before removing from the sheet.

Serve immediately while still hot, or cool completely before freezing and storing for up to 6 months.

Makes 6 – 8 Pumpkin Burger Patties

Printable Recipe


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Have Protein, Will Travel

In a food paradise as diverse and accessible as Honolulu, it seems like a crime to even consider packing the standard “emergency” food that covers the standard range of granola bars and protein shakes. Vegan options exist almost anywhere you go, even where you’d least expect it. That’s why I was surprised by just how handy my little packets of Amazing Meal, made by powdered greens-pusher Amazing Grass, proved to be in no time at all.

Compared to my non-existent activity level at home, walking miles across town every day felt like training for the Olympics. Even with my voracious appetite for eating out, trying new restaurants, and cooking as much exotic produce I could get my hands on, I still found my energy levels dipping severely come midday. Rather than relying the standard quick fix from a cup of coffee, the Cafe Mocha superfood blend was genuinely revitalizing, and without any jitters of course. The vaguely greenish hue is the only hint of the goodness packed within each glass. Trust me, I won’t willingly drink any swampy protein powders that can only be described as tasting healthy at best, and it was no struggle to drain my cup. Head and shoulders above most dried greens blends even when mixed with only cold water, the light cocoa flavor gives way to a hint of coffee, very gently sweetened to round out the flavors. No, it’s not something you would mistake for a decadent milkshake, but it’s far tastier than most healthy powdered drinks on the market. For a quick energy infusion on the go, I’m very grateful to have these slim packets in my bag, just in case.


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Beyond Meat; Beyond Expectations

Decades of stigma and misunderstanding are finally giving way to a more tolerant, open-minded approach to the murky waters of “fake meat.” Even NPR has taken note that more omnivores are willingly eschewing meat in favor of vegan alternatives these days. Though I’d like to believe that this shift can be attributed to a better understanding of factory farms and generally being able to access greater compassion to our feathered, furry, and scaled friends, I know that it all boils down to one thing at the end of the day: Taste. Innovations in the field have brought forth tastier creations than ever before, and suddenly, meat alternatives have become a painless way to eat healthier, without sacrificing flavor. Whatever the reason, convincing those outside of the vegan and vegetarian community to eat more cruelty-free foods can only be a good thing for everyone involved. Since my own approach to cooking puts flavor first, I’ve benefited greatly from the latest and greatest plant-based proteins, too.

A real game-changer in the industry is Beyond Meat, a company that’s made headlines numerous times for winning over Bittman, garnering support from Twitter’s Biz Stone, and unnerving longtime vegetarians for their similarity to actual poultry products. Serving up only chicken-style alternatives, this stuff is the real deal, at least as far as “fake” meat goes.

Right from my first encounter, it was abundantly clear that Beyond Meat was in a category all its own, creating an entirely different protein experience than one would find in traditional meatless mains, such as tofu, tempeh, or seitan. For one, it smells crazily, disturbingly, genuinely like cooked chicken. Even though I haven’t eaten meat in years now, I’m still exposed to those preparing and consuming it, and that previously inimitable scent really threw me through a loop. Firm but easily yielding to the tooth, the texture is where it really shines. Far from the rubbery, chewy, or latex-y consistency of previous faux meat options, the strips shred in a very authentic way, mimicking the grain of cooked chicken. Though this may put off staunch vegans who don’t miss the experience of eating meat one bit, it’s a big selling point for everyone else.

Lightly Seasoned is like a blank canvas; borderline bland, like plain roasted or broiled chicken breast. Ideal for soaking up any sauce or marinade, there are no competing or off flavors that would giveaway the soy base. Lean, non-fatty (“skinless”), the pieces are reminiscent of a light, white meat sort of taste. This was perfect for fulfilling my longtime craving for a bowlful of soothing chicken soup with rice. Tenderizing in the hot broth and soaking in the deeply savory bouillon, it was so unbelievably meaty, I wouldn’t have trusted its vegan label if I hadn’t prepared it myself.

Grilled is very similar to the prior option, now sporting attractive black grill marks that only a practiced hand would be able to achieve at home. Subtly smoky, woodsy, and bearing a charred essence on a lightly peppered backdrop, the hassle of pulling out your own grill is taken out of the picture. Sturdy enough to stay firmly in place on skewers, I was delighted to turn my seared strips into yakitori, a savory delight that hasn’t passed my lips in nearly a decade now. Too simple to consider as a true recipe, all you need is a batch of sauce to dip the “chicken” into, which goes something like this:

1/4 Cup Mirin
1/4 Cup Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Grated Fresh Ginger
3 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Arrowroot

Vigorously whisk all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, breaking up any clumps of starch should they form. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes up to a full boil. Remove from the heat and enjoy immediately.

Finally, Southwestern spices up Beyond Meat’s offerings with a chipotle and lime-spiked base. Defined by a gentle but discernible kick, the subtle burn grows with each successive bite. By the end of the meal, you may very well find your lips tingling, and not in an unpleasant way. Unfortunately, this heat doesn’t add much in the way of nuanced flavor, and overpowers the inherently chicken-like flavor that one might be craving from such a product. Though perfectly tasty, it strikes me as a waste to cover up the masterfully crafted taste of this unique protein base. I probably wouldn’t buy it again, simply because a sough a purer “chicken” experience, but it was undeniably delicious in a layered chicken taco salad. Composed of pico de gallo, shredded romaine, sliced olives, tortilla strips, and of course, Southwestern chicken-free strips chopped into cubes all packed into glass jars, this meal became an ideal impromptu picnic.

A radical departure from the crunchy-granola “hippy” foods of only a decade or two ago, Beyond Meat is making meatless living more possible for those who may not have even considered the option before. Anyone even moderately curious about trying another protein alternative would be doing themselves a disservice not to check these chicken-less strips out- I have yet to hear any negative feedback, from professional food reviewers and my own omnivorous dinner mates alike.


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Good to Go

Pardon the cliche, but it’s true- When it rains, it pours. Though equally applicable to the unprecedented amounts of snow endlessly falling on the New England area, in this case I was thinking about deadlines, school work, and freelance jobs. To be utterly booked and maddeningly busy in the industry that I love is the best problem possible, but it does wear one quite thin. Never before have I had any sort of job that had me out of the house for 13 hours at a time, or – heaven forbid – force me to work through lunch. It was always difficult to understand how someone could lack the time to sit down for even a 15-minute meal, but now I get it. Sucked into the dizzying pace and fully absorbed in the task at hand, it can be difficult to break away.

I’m not the type of person who can painlessly forgo a meal though. Prepared for such situations, there’s always some sort of snack secreted away in my bag, mixed amongst the knitting needles and scratch paper. Larabars are standard fare, but like just so many other fans of this natural food bar, I felt compelled to take a crack at a homemade version. Having lamented that their main failing is a lack of protein, this was finally my opportunity to take matters into my own hand and pump up the nutritional stats.

With so much goodness crammed into such a small package, these svelte morsels positively glow with green energy! Instead of using just nuts and fruit as a base, I deviated from the traditional formula to include a generous helping of protein powder, infused with greens no less. Shockingly sweet and tasty for something that looks so grassy, it may not be particularly original, but this is what’s been keeping me going for the past couple of days.

Green Protein Bar

1/2 Cup Raw Cashews
1/2 Cup Vegan Protein Powder with Greens*
12 Medjool Dates, Pitted (About 1 cup, packed)
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Pinch Salt
4 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Dark Chocolate or Mini Chocolate Chips, Divided

*I used Peaceful Planet’s Supreme Meal in these, but I also highly recommend Amazing Grass’s Amazing Meal

Start by placing just the cashews into your blender or food processor, and pulse until they’re pulverized into a coarse meal. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure that there are no large pieces hiding in the corners, add in the protein powder, and pulse a few more times to combine. For the final addition, toss in the dates, vanilla, and salt, and let the machine run until the contents become a mostly smooth, slightly sticky dough. Depending on your equipment, this could take anywhere between 2 – 6 minutes.

Scrape out the dough onto a silpat, and knead in 3 tablespoons of the chocolate by hand. If it’s too sticky to handle, lightly oil your hands before proceeding. Once the chips or chunks are well-distributed throughout, shape the dough into a fairly flat rectangle, approximately 4 x 6 inches.  Take the remaining 1 tablespoon of chocolate, sprinkle it over the top of the block, and gently press it in so that it all sticks.

Stash it in the fridge to solidify a bit more, as it’s likely somewhat warm and soft at this point. After it has chilled for about 2 hours, slice it into 1-inch wide bars. Wrap each bar individually in plastic, and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Makes Approximately 6 Bars

Printable Recipe

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