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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Blog, Interrupted

Breaking such a long stretch of radio silence and launching right back into the regular routine is proving far more difficult than first imagined. Even with an abundant backlog and ample time carved out for writing, the words still won’t manifest into satisfying sentences. A little over one week without blogging is all it takes to shatter the easy flow of ideas and photos, it would seem. While I’m still struggling to get back on my feet, the pile of material only grows, pushing against the impulse to curl up in bed and shun all critical thought. That’s a good thing.

One time-sensitive piece that is begging to be shared, asap, is the launch of So Delicious‘ brand new Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk Beverage. Originally I had wanted to nominate this beverage as the unofficial nog of Halloween, but since our town’s spooky celebration was canceled for yet another year, it’s just as well that this is a drink suitable for any festive events. Powerfully rich and thick enough to coat the palate with one sip, this is not a drink to mess around with. Sweet as a dessert in itself, a straight shot of this autumnal treat reminds me of melted ice cream. Truth be told, it’s so sugary and viscous that I’m not sure I would recommend sipping it plain. Rather, it’s the kind of ingredient begging to be cut with a shot of espresso, or spiked with a splash of rum.

Lightly seasoned with warm spices, cinnamon leads the pack of usual suspects, ginger and nutmeg. My biggest disappointment is that despite listing pumpkin as an ingredient, the squash flavor is entirely absent. Perhaps an added pinch of salt would help awaken those more savory notes, but at least an effort was made to go beyond the typical artificially flavored route.

To make the Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk really shine, it simply must be used in baking or cooking. Imagine using it to soak French toast, instantly creating a custard without any further prep necessary. Or consider tapioca pudding with a spicy, autumnal twist. What about caramels, where any cream or coconut milk could easily be swapped out for this treat instead? Though it may not succeed as a drink by itself, it certainly has enough culinary potential to warrant a place in your fridge.


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Brace for Impact

Nerves fraying more severely than the sleeves on my favorite old sweater, our newest friend Sandy has us all running scared around here. Although we still have yet to meet the old gal, she’s already hurling wind and a few scattered raindrops our way, no doubt a mere hint of what’s to come. Even the most dire forecast can usually be ignored or at least rationalized, but when officials say that it will likely be worse than Irene, and can cause “life-threatening devastation,” well, that’s not so easy to brush off. After losing last Halloween in that brutal beating and having my very first car accident due to the road conditions, I for one am pretty nervous.

It’s a good thing that before even learning of this Frankenstorm, it turned out that I was already preparing food for it. Of course, food and electricity are at the top of the list of concerns for this vegan blogger, so thank goodness that at least the edibles are covered.

Devilishly spicy but not unbearably so, these crunchy roasted pumpkin seeds are dosed in tongue-tingling sriracha. Lightly salted and easy to munch, they were intended to be an ideal Halloween party snack, but instead are also perfectly suited to become emergency rations. Shelf-stable in an air-tight container for up to a month, this nutty blend of pumpkin and sesame seeds will prove ideal to munch on should the power go out.

There’s a million and a half ways to roast pumpkin seeds, but it never hurts to have a new flavor concept. Even if you’re not concerned about massive flooding or the potential for a week or more without electricity, I have a feeling these would still be just as enjoyable.

No matter where you are, stay safe everyone! Here’s hoping that Halloween festivities are the most frightening events in coming days, and not the aftermath of Sandy.

Sriracha Seeds

2 Cups Raw, Fresh Pumpkin Seeds (From 1 Medium Sugar Pumpkin)
2 Tablespoons White Sesame Seeds
2 Tablespoons Black Sesame Seeds
2 Tablespoons Sriracha
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Coarse Sea Salt

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silpat; set aside.

Toss all the seeds into a medium-sized bowl along with the sriracha and olive oil. Stir well to combine and thoroughly coat the dry goods with the liquid seasoning. Pour everything out onto your prepared sheets, and spread the seeds into a single even layer. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt before popping them into the oven.

Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until golden brown, stirring every 20 minutes or as needed. Let cool completely before eating or storing in an air-tight container.

Makes about 2 Cups

Printable Recipe


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You Don’t Know Jack-o-Lantern

Once the highlight of every autumn, Halloween has begun to lose its charm. Once an opportunity to escape into an alternate persona, collect hordes of sweet treats, and explore new neighborhoods filled with bright lights and wild decorations, now it’s little more than a note on a calender page. Much of that has to do with simply growing older no doubt, an unfortunate side effect of becoming too mature or too serious. More than that, however, the great prize at the end of the journey holds little allure now. Artificially flavored, colored, and pumped full of unsavory fillers, not to mention the sad prevalence of animal products in mainstream options, the whole song and dance seems somehow hollow without that great candy climax to look forward to. For someone with an active and voracious sweet tooth to reject free candy has got to say something.

Rest assured, not all candy has lost its appeal. The homemade, hand-crafted stuff is in a category of its own, especially since it’s the sort that no parent would allow their child to take on a trick-or-treat outing. Ironic that the mass-produced junk would be considered a safer, better option. Fine by me though, because that only means I get to horde more of the choice picks for myself, such as these lightly spiced pumpkin pâte de fruits. Gummy candies all grown up, these seasonal treats are perfect for the entire autumn season, not just the standard Halloween sugar high.

Soft yet toothsome, the crunch of sugar coating the outside gives way to smooth pumpkin jelly, tinged with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. A hint of molasses adds depth, contrasted by a bright splash of cider vinegar. Unlike so many other “pumpkin spice” novelties, these edible orange jewels genuinely taste like the gourd of their namesake.

Pumpkin Pâte de Fruits

1/4 Cup Solid-Packed (Canned) Pumpkin Puree
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Juice*
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Molasses
2 Cups Granulated Sugar, Plus Extra to Coat
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1 3-Ounce Package Liquid Pectin

*I ran about 1/4 of a medium-sized sugar pumpkin, gutted, peeled, and sliced into 1-inch strips, through my juicer to yield around 1 cup of pumpkin juice. If you don’t have a juicer, don’t fret! You can also chop up the raw pumpkin into piece, toss them into a food processor or blender, and thoroughly puree. Strain from a very fine-meshed sieve or nut milk bag, and save the solid pulp for another use. It’s great for making crackers or dog treats!

Line a 4 x 8-inch loaf pan with aluminum foil, and lightly grease; Set aside.

Place the pumpkin puree, pumpkin juice, cider vinegar, molasses, sugar, and all the spices in a medium saucepan, stirring to combine. From this point forward though, keep that spatula out of the pot until the very end, lest you create nasty sugar crystals while the candy is forming. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, gently swirling the pot periodically, until the mixture reaches 238 degrees (soft ball stage.) At last, pour in the pectin, and stir briefly to incorporate. Continue cooking at a steady boil 2 minutes longer.

Transfer the hot, liquid candy into your prepared pan, and let sit at room temperature until completely cool. It should be solid enough to pull out of the pan at this point, using the foil as a sling. Use a very sharp knife, lightly coated in oil, to slice the rectangle into small, two-bite squares. Toss the squares in additional granulated sugar to coat, and store in an air-tight container at room temperature. The candies will last for about 1 week… If you can keep the ghouls and goblins away!

Printable Recipe


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Perfect Pumpkins

Is it just another nasty side effect of growing older, or are pumpkin patches slowly losing their luster? No longer the exciting field trip out into an amber- and golden-hued land, far from reality, where the gourds sit proudly in tangled and vine-covered rows, but a meager errand. Hay rides serve only to incite a maddening barrage of sneezes and itches, and most disconcerting, the pumpkin selection is nothing to raise an eyebrow at. Small to medium orange orbs of approximate roundness, more often than not, scarred with moldy spots, contagious-looking warts, or odd concave surfaces, most are not suited to carving even on a good day. Pick out something adequate in the pumpkin patch, only to discover the thickest inner walls ever created out of squash, or worse yet, empty seed pods that are no good for roasting. So many stumbling blocks, so few “perfect” pumpkins.

Dead-set on ending this cycle of disappointment once and for all, I set off to a brand new pumpkin patch this year in search of something better. Would you believe it, I found gourds there so impossibly ideal, it was a downright magical discovery. Flawlessly shaped, smooth, and glittering in the sunlight, I could overlook their diminutive size in favor of their other advantages. Cracking one open straight away to investigate the seed situation, the reality of what filled those thing shells was far sweeter…

Pumpkin candy! Forget those truly scary mass-produced sweets for Halloween and try making easy treats like these. Taking a page from my Shamrock Patties, these festive treats do indeed have real pumpkin in them, along with bright, pie-inspired spices. Should you get a hold of edible ink markers, you could even dress them up as jack-0-lanterns, complete with uniquely cute or creepy faces.

Turns out that the elusive perfect pumpkin may actually exist… In candy form, at least!

Pumpkin Patties

Patties:

1/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree
1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine, at Room Temperature
3 – 4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
Pinch Salt

Candy Coating:

1/4 Cup (2 Ounces) Food-Grade Cocoa Butter
1/4 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Tomato Powder (Optional, for Color)
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric (Optional, for Color)
Pinch Ground Cinnamon

Orange Colored Sugar, if Desired

Place your pumpkin puree in the bowl of your food processor fitted with the paddle attachment, or in your food processor. Add the margarine and cream the two together until smooth. Incorporate 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar to start, along with the vanilla, spices, and salt. Start on a slow speed, or pulse to combine. The mixture will likely look like thick icing at this point, so add in another cup of confectioner’s sugar, and once again mix on low. You’re looking for it to become the consistency of soft cookie dough; malleable, but not gooey or drippy. If it still seems to be too loose, mix in up to an additional cup of the sugar, as needed.

Turn the pumpkin candy out onto a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and gently flatten it out to about 1/4 – 1/2 inch in thickness. To prevent sticking, either sprinkle on a very light dusting of confectioner’s sugar, or top it with a second silpat or sheet of parchment before taking the rolling pin to it. Stash your candy disk in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

Once chilled, pull out a small pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter approximately 1-inch wide. Lay out a second silpat or piece of parchment on top of a baking sheet. Cut out your pumpkins, and transfer them to the prepared sheet. Gather up the candy scraps, re-roll, and cut again, until you’ve used all of the dough. Should the dough become too soft and finicky to work with, just toss it back in the fridge for another 15 – 30 minutes, and try once more. Now, stash the whole sheet of cut centers in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before getting to work on the coating.

Place your cocoa butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 – 3 minutes, so that it completely liquefies. Meanwhile, mix together the remaining ingredients for the coating in a small dish, making sure that they’re thoroughly combined and that there are no clumps. Once the cocoa butter is melted, whisk in the dry ingredients, stirring vigorously to make sure that everything is completely dissolved into the liquified fat.

Pull out your semi-frozen candy centers, and dip each into the coating, one at a time, letting the excess drip off. Place them back on the silpat, and watch the coating set up right before your eyes. This top coat is thinner than regular chocolate, so you may wish to double-dip once the first layer has solidified. If using, quickly sprinkle the decorative sugar over the dipped patties as soon as you set them down.

Make 3 – 4 Dozen Patties

Printable Recipe


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Pumped for Pumpkin Season

Throughout all of the seasonal upheaval, one thing that cooks and connoisseur both look forward to with a certain child-like glee is the return of the pumpkin. Like clockwork, the blogosphere will be inundated with pumpkin soups, pumpkin cakes, and pumpkin smoothies and in no time at all, the sting of losing summer will begin to fade. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. For the past couple of years though, mother nature has thwarted this comfortable transition, finding new ways to wipe out the current crop of pumpkins and create mass panic amongst foodies everywhere. This year it’s the devastation of hurricane Irene that’s driving shoppers to wipe grocery store shelves of canned pumpkin clean, stock piling for the inevitable shortage – Mostly caused by other people stuffing their pantries as well, rather than any actual scarcity.

Very reluctantly using one of my last remaining and so very precious cans of the orange squash puree, I set out to ease the pain of entering into full fledged autumn and create something special. Pumpkin ravioli, each delicate envelope of thin pasta packed with savory, slightly cheesy pumpkin goodness, sounded like the perfect option. The good news and bad news is that the pumpkin element ended up being pushed out of the spotlight, upstaged by the unassuming supporting actor; the sauce. Yes, it was all about the sauce.

A simple “cream” sauce enriched with chopped mushrooms for that extra umami umph, it’s a versatile accompaniment that wears many hats. Pairing beautifully with all sorts of autumnal dishes, you could also pour a generous dollop over fluffy, homemade biscuits and call it gravy, and it takes on that extra role without missing a beat. It may not be particularly innovative, but with so much seasonal upheaval, sometimes classic comfort food really is best.

So the ravioli were a bit disappointing, but by no means bad. The good news in this situation is that since the pumpkin didn’t stand out, you could seamlessly substitute pureed butternut squash, sweet potato, parsnips, or pretty much any slightly sweet winter squash or root vegetable. Just mix 1 cup of puree with 1/4 cup of vegan parmesan, plus a pinch of salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and stuff about 1 – 2 teaspoons between two wonton wrappers, dabbing the edges with water to seal. Simmer the ravioli very gently for just 2 – 3 minutes, until the wontons are al dente. Toss with mushroom creme sauce, and forget all about that awful pumpkin shortage.

Mushroom Creme Sauce/Gravy

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
16 Ounces Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
2 Cups Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/4 Cup Vegan Parmesan
2 Tablespoons Chickpea Flour
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Set a large skillet with high sides or a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Allow the oil to get nice and hot before adding in the onion, and sauteeing it for 8 – 10 minutes so that it softens and begins to barely take on color. Add in the minced garlic along with the chopped mushrooms, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 5 – 6 minutes. The mushrooms should reduce significantly in size.

Separately, whisk together the “milk” of your choosing, thyme, “parmesan,” and chickpea flour until smooth. Pour this mixture into the skillet or saucepan, and stir well. Be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan frequently to ensure that nothing burns. Cook for another 6 – 8 minutes, or until the liquid thickens and bubbles begin to break on the surface. Turn off the heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve while hot!

Makes Enough for 3 – 4 Servings of Ravioli

Printable Recipe

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