BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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We Be Jammin’

Summer, no matter how long, hot, or dry, never overstays its welcome in my home. The season always ends up feeling shorter than the rest, abruptly cut off by the rude interruption of an autumnal cold snap, or forced to jump into the conversation late thanks to a long-winded spring shower. Every moment of warmth in between is savored, if not greedily seized, because it’s just never enough to satiate my cravings. While June, July, and August fly by, I’ve been known to mow through more fully grown watermelons than seems humanly possible, trying in vain to quench a never-ending thirst for both the fruit and the season itself. Cleaning up the wreckage after yet another destructive melon binge, I started thinking about what was left once the juicy pink flesh had been devoured. Surely, there was something better to do with all of that perfectly good rind than lay it to waste in the trash.

Meanwhile, another sort of refuse was piling up in considerable tonnage; cucumber peels, in all their green glory, suddenly seemed too precious to take for granted, much like the fleeting days of summer. Both leftovers possessed a uniquely refreshing, watery constitution, and were neutral enough to bend in either a sweet or savory direction with equal success. Surely, the two could join forces and become something much greater than their individual parts.

Jam is the answer. Cucumber-melon jam, a piece of the season preserved for months to come, without detracting from the immediate gratification of the fresh produce itself. The key for success is to make sure that every last piece of green skin is peeled away from the watermelon rind, since it’s tough and somewhat bitter- The one leftover element that’s only worth saving for the compost heap. Simple and vibrant, the combination could also pair beautifully with a handful of fresh mint, or even basil for a more unconventional approach.

From trash to treasure, rinds and peels haven’t been given their fare share of the culinary spotlight, but I think it’s about time to change all that. One taste of this sweet, simple condiment, and you’ll never be able to justify throwing away the excavated shell of another watermelon ever again.

Cucumber-Melon Jam

1/3 Pound Cucumber Peels
1/2 Cup Water
2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
4 Teaspoons Calcium Water*
1 1/2 Pounds Watermelon Rind, Peeled and Chopped
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
4 Teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin Powder
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Paste or Extract

Before you begin, prepare the calcium water. To do so, combine 1/4 teaspoon calcium powder (the small packet included in the box of Pomona’s pectin) with 1/4 cup water in a small container with a lid. Shake well to dissolve. Leftover calcium water can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Place the cucumber peels, water, lemon juice, and calcium water in your blender and thoroughly puree. Once smooth, add in the prepared watermelon rind and blend on a moderate speed. Depending on your textural preferences, puree the mixture until completely smooth, or leave it slightly chunky. Both approaches are equally tasty!

Transfer the liquid base to a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat on the stove. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar and pectin powder. Bring the liquids up to a boil before adding in the sugar mixture, stirring vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve the pectin while the jam comes back up to a boil. Once it returns to a vigorous bubble, stir in the vanilla, remove from the heat and pour into 4 or 5 clean half-pint glass jars. Simply let cool and seal with an air-tight lid to make “freezer jam” which will keep in the fridge for about a month, or follow these suggestions to properly can the jam and put it up for about a year.

Makes 4 – 5 Cups

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Cashew Cache

In honor of labor day and what might be summer’s last hurrah, the only suitable recipe to share would have to be one cool customer, unencumbered by complex procedures or obscure ingredients. Luckily, I have just the dish to fit that bill.

Step away from the stove! Raw, vegetable-based noodles are the key to beating the heat and simultaneously lightening up this satisfying savory treat. Delicate strands of carrots and cucumbers mingle together in crisp tangles of “pasta,” as vibrant as they are flavorful. Inspired by classic cold sesame noodles, the Chinese takeout staple has graced my table countless times but never in such a fresh format.

Cashew butter takes the spotlight for this round, adding a unique nuance to the nutty, lightly spiced sauce. Deceptively simple in composition, it doesn’t sound like anything particularly special on paper, but one taste and you’ll be hooked on that creamy cashew elixir, lavishing it over everything from salads to grilled tofu and beyond. Although you may end up with more than you need for this particular dish, trust me: It won’t be a struggle to polish off the excess in short order.

Carrot Cashew Noodles

Cashew Sauce:

6 Tablespoons Smooth Cashew Butter
1/3 Cup Vegetable Broth
2 Tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos or Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Clove Fresh Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Grated
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Sriracha

Carrot Pasta:

5 Large Carrots, Peeled and Shredded with a Julienne Peeler or Spiralizer
1 English Cucumber, Peeled and Shredded with a Julienne Peeler or Spiralizer
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/3 Cup Toasted Cashews, Roughly Chopped

This dish comes together very quickly and doesn’t keep particularly well once assembled, so make sure you’re good and hungry before you begin!

Start by preparing the sauce. Place the cashew butter in a medium-sized bowl and slowly add the vegetable broth, stirring constantly to loosen and smooth out the thick paste. Simply add the remaining ingredients, whisk thoroughly until homogeneous, and set aside. Kept separately in an air-tight container, the sauce should keep in the fridge for 1 – 2 weeks.

To finish the dish, toss together the carrot and cucumber noodles and begin by adding about half of the sauce. It may be difficult to combine everything with tongs or a spatula, so don’t be afraid to get in there and mix it up with your hands. Add more sauce as needed (don’t forget that carrots and cucumbers come in all different sizes, so your mileage my vary), incorporate the scallions, and toss to combine.

Move the mixture out onto a serving plate, top with chopped cashews, and enjoy!

Makes 2 – 3 Main Dish Servings; 4 – 5 Side Dish Servings

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Posole for the Soul

Just like the changing of the seasons themselves, the life cycle of a garden is predictable, yet invariably astonishing. It seems so improbable that such tiny seeds could ever be filled with life and produce edible fruit that it truly takes me by surprise, every single year, when I can reach out and pop that first tiny cherry tomato into my mouth. It’s the most natural process on earth and still it tastes like magic.

The first few harvests repeat this very same process; the wonder, the amazement, and the adoration of such impeccably fresh produce growing right in my backyard. Doing anything more than just eating the little red gems raw, still warm from the sunshine, seems like a crime against vegetables. Then, like clockwork, the tomatoes start to take over. There’s never more than a half-dozen working vines out there, and yet they’re suddenly producing more tomatoes than I know what to do with. Now it doesn’t sound like such a bad idea to get them into the kitchen anymore.

Adding a short but intense blast of heat contributes a beautiful char to the tiny tomatoes, introducing a slightly smoky note and concentrating their inherently umami flavors at the same time. The midsummer heat makes it a bit challenging to enjoy hot tomatoes though, so after chilling them down, they became the star ingredient in a salad inspired by one of my favorite stews: Posole.

Admittedly, I had never eaten hominy cold before, or outside of the classic soup for that matter, but it proved a delightful addition to this Tex-Mex mixture. Flavorful like fresh corn but more toothsome like miniature gnocchi, those chewy kernels lent the blend a heartiness akin to pasta salad, without all the gluten.

Speaking of those predictably unpredictable seasons, almost as soon as I had my picnic set up and ready to enjoy in the great outdoors, the sky decided that was the perfect moment to open up and begin to pour. Thus, I can now speak from experience to say that this salad does indeed keep well, for up 3 – 4 days in the fridge, and it’s even tasty when eaten warm.

While tomatoes are still plentiful and at their peak, celebrate the season with a unique preparation. It may be tough to sacrifice such perfect specimens, but I promise that the leap of faith will pay off in even bigger flavors.

Posole Salad

4 Cups Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Red Onion, Diced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/2 (1 1/4 Pound) Savoy Cabbage, Shredded
1 (29-Ounce) Can Cooked White Hominy, Drained and Rinsed
2 Ripe Avocados, Diced
1 Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely minced

Cilantro Dressing:

1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro
1/4 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1 Clove Garlic
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Olive Oil

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cherry tomatoes and diced red onion with the olive oil and oregano, and spread them out in one even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 15 – 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are blistered and beginning to burst. Let cool before proceeding to assemble to salad.

While you’re waiting for the tomatoes to cool, go ahead and prepare the dressing. Simply toss the cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic in your food processor or blender, and slowly pour the lime juice in while running the machine on low. Thoroughly puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if needed. Once mostly smooth, introduce the chili powder, cumin, agave, and salt next. Run the motor again while drizzling in the olive oil to emulsify.

Finish the salad, by tossing together the blistered tomatoes and onions, shredded cabbage, hominy, avocados, and jalapenos in a large bowl. Pour the dressing on top, tossing to coat. Chill for at least an hour before serving to allow the flavors to fully meld.

Serves 8 as a Starter or Side Dish

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Brownie Points

Way to steal my thunder, Trader Joe. After all of these years, countless visits, and quite a few generous “donations,” I thought you were my friend. Why did you have to deprive me the glory of unleashing brownie crisps upon the hungry, sweet-toothed masses? Granted, I’m far from the first person to invent the concept of thin, crunchy planks of brownie goodness, but earlier offerings were hardly widespread, and far from affordable. You just had to make them so easily available, effortlessly satisfying chocolate cravings across the country, no hunting or penny pinching required. Oh Joe, I’m happy for your success, but I can’t help but feel at least slightly robbed here.

That said, store-bought cookies will never live up to anything homemade, if you ask me. Even if these heavenly morsels of shatteringly crisp cocoa wafers become the next speculoos spread, they will still taste much better coming out of one’s own oven. No matter how low Joe pushes that price point, the cost of mere flour, sugar, and cocoa will always be a better deal, too. You may have beaten me to the punch, Joe, but I’m sure not down for the count!

For anyone who’s fought to get the corner piece from a pan of fudgy brownies or relished the distinctive crackled top, these crisps have your name written all over them. Deceptively light, it’s disturbingly easy to munch straight through half a batch without even pausing to take a breath. Whether or not they start a new craze is yet to be seen, but based on the reception they’ve received from diverse crowds of dessert-lovers, they do seem to have universal appeal.

Brownie Crisps

1/3 Cup Aquafaba (Liquid from a Can of Chickpeas)
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoon Dutch Cocoa Powder
1 Tablespoon Pure, Unflavored Pea Protein
1/4 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Granules
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup (3 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
3 Tablespoons Chopped Walnuts, Divided

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl with a hand mixer,) combine the aquafaba and sugar and beat until foamy. You’re not looking to whip it into a firm meringue here, but a loose froth with the sugar fully dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, pea protein, instant coffee, salt, and baking powder, stirring to ensure that all of the ingredients are equally distributed throughout the mixture.

Slowly add in the dry ingredients while the mixer runs, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Immediately follow with the oil and stir just until the batter comes together smoothly. Fold in the half of the chocolate chips and walnuts by hand.

Transfer the batter to your prepared baking sheet and use an offset spatula to spread it out as thinly as humanly possible. The batter should just about cover the whole sheet. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips and walnuts evenly over the top.

Bake on the center rack in the oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pan, and continue baking for 10 more minutes. Pull the sheet out and use a pizza cutter to slice the square or rectangular shapes you desire, but don’t separate them yet. Return the cookies to the oven and bake for a final 10 – 14 minutes. They may still feel slightly soft in the center, but they’ll continue to crisp as they cool.

Let the crisps cool completely on the baking sheet before breaking the cookies apart. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, if you can manage to keep them around that long.

Makes 2 – 2 1/2 Dozen Brownie Crisps

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Frozen Corn is the Cure

Gathering up my bags and grocery list, I stepped out of my enclosed oasis of air conditioning and into the midday sun. Slamming the car door shut and turning to go, I suddenly found myself caught. It wasn’t unusual to find my shirt, or purse, or even hair entangled in a closed door, but when I looked down to the source, I was unprepared for what I saw. Oh… Shit was the only clear thought that passed through my mind upon discovering that it was, in fact, my right thumb being held captive, fully enclosed in the not only latched, but locked car door.

Forget about that quick, routine grocery run. Although it took a moment for the pain to register, it roared into clarity the moment I finished fumbling to extricate myself. Gritting my teeth and marching into the store, passing through the produce and going straight to the freezer aisle, I grabbed the first thing I found that might stop the swelling: Corn. Nature’s first aid, frozen corn, in all of its icy glory. Of course, I still completed my shopping, the bag of frozen corn draped stiffly around my mangled digit.

No bones were broken and miraculously, no blood was spilled, but the thumb remains black and angrily inflamed well beyond its usual size even five days later. Traditional pain killers have proven ineffective at best, incapacitating at worst, and so at the end of the day, I find myself curled up in bed with yet another bag of frozen corn wrapped around my smashed finger. It’s the only thing that brings any modicum of relief.

All of that is to say that I have found myself with a considerable stock pile of corn, both frozen and fully thawed after serving as overnight ice packs. Giving their all for the cause, these kernels exhaust their typically toothsome structure along with their magical healing qualities, making for some rather mushy bags of corn pulp in the morning. Sending them off in a blaze of glory, the best way I’ve found to appreciate the service of these vegetables is in a golden puree of rich, summery soup.

The term velouté typically refers to a silky-smooth sauce, but in this case, it was the only term that seemed sufficient to describe the creamy, luscious texture of such a full-bodied soup. Thickened not with added starches, gums, or flours, its the bulk of the corn itself that creates this winsome quality. It’s a good thing I’m so fond of this blend, served both piping hot and thoroughly chilled, because it looks like there will still be a lot more where that came from… At least until my thumb is on the mend.

Roasted Corn Velouté

1/4 Cup Olive Oil, Divided
5 Cups Corn Kernels (Thawed if Frozen)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Small Onion, Diced
4 Small Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Medium Yellow Pepper, Diced
3 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the corn, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper, tossing until the corn is evenly coated. Spread the corn mixture out evenly on a large baking sheet. Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring at the 10 minute mark, until the kernels look lightly toasted.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan and begin to saute the onion. Introduce the garlic and yellow pepper next, stirring frequently, until all of the vegetables are golden brown around the edges. Add in 3 cups of the vegetable stock along with the lemon juice and 4 cups of the roasted corn, and let everything simmer gently for 15 – 20 minutes.

Transfer everything into a blender and thoroughly puree, until perfectly smooth. Add cayenne pepper to taste, and the final cup of vegetable stock if you’d prefer a thinner texture. Stir in the remaining cup of roasted corn before serving.

Makes 4 – 5 Servings

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Veni, Vidi, Videri

Why do people save the best for last? As one of those people, I’m not sure I can fully explain the compulsion to leave the very best bite for the end of the meal, or my favorite song for the end of a playlist. This very same impulse to delay gratification seems to get me in trouble at times, particularly when the end is not something clearly defined. Such is the case for many product reviews, languishing on my to-do list simply because the item in question was so good, I want to reserve it as a final reward. In realistic terms though, this just means that the post never gets written because an active blog never ends. That’s the only excuse I can come up with for explaining why these stellar chocolates remained without a proper feature for over two years.

Packaged lovingly with handwritten, individual numbers, one could easily mistake these for jewelry boxes rather than containers for edible treats. Crafted in small batches in Raleigh, North Carolina, Videri is one of the few American bean-to-bar operations. Not all of the offerings are vegan, but the dairy-free options will not leave you wanting. Defined by a clean, crisp snap and smooth melting texture, even a small square promises to satisfy the most voracious chocoholic.

Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt is an instant winner. Large flakes of salt are easily visible on the underside of each bar, immediately hitting the tongue with a strong saline hit. This serves to balance out the overall sweetness beautifully, while eliminating any bitter notes typically associated with dark chocolate.

Classic Dark Chocolate with 70% cacao is the everyday sort of treat that goes well with everything. Slightly woodsy with notes of raisin, the complexity packed into this little bar reminded me of tasting a fine wine.

90% Ecuadorian Dark Chocolate is a seasonal special, and one that you’ll definitely want to take advantage of while you still can. Dry, with a pleasantly bitter edge and slightly tannic aftertaste, this bold bar is not for the timid. Crushing sugar cravings without piling on the sweetness, these powerful chocolates became my secret weapon for vanquishing a snack attack.

Gifted with this wealth of cacao goodness, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take them into the kitchen for a bit of sweet experimentation. Especially in the heat of summer, peppermint patties are one of my favorite treats. Best stashed in the freezer for full cooling effect, I love the way the chocolate shell shatters upon impact, revealing a soft, creamy center with minty fresh flavor. The only thing that could be improved is perhaps the ratio of chocolate to peppermint, which is why I decided to flip the classic patty inside-out. Now, a solid chocolate center is graced by a blanket of white peppermint coating, allowing the chocolate to truly shine.

Inside-Out Peppermint Patties

Chocolate Centers:

6 Ounces 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup

Mint Coating:

1/2 Cup (4 Ounces) 100% Cocoa Butter
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/8 Teaspoon Peppermint Oil

To form the centers, place the chopped chocolate and corns syrup in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for about 60 seconds. Stir vigorously, and continue to heat at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well each time, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and refrigerate until set; about 1 hour.

Roll the chocolate disk out to about 1/4-inch thick and use 1-inch round cookie cutters to punch out the candy pieces. Should the chocolate dough become too soft or difficult to work with, just toss it back in the fridge for another 15 – 30 minutes before proceeding. Once all of the center are cut, stash them 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. Whisk in the confectioner’s sugar and mint oil, stirring vigorously to make sure that everything is completely dissolved.

Pull out your semi-frozen patties and dip each into the mint coating, one at a time. Place them back on the silpat, allowing the coating to set. This top coat is thinner than the standard pure chocolate shell, so you may wish to double-dip once the first layer has solidified.

Makes 30 – 34 Patties

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Instant Ice Cream Gratification

The only thing worse than suffering through a sweltering hot summer day without air conditioning is trying to survive those same conditions without any ice cream in the house. It’s entirely possible that one can make do without such convenient modern amenities that would help abate the heat, but only if generous amounts of frozen, creamy treats are kept close at hand. Ice cream makes even chilly days more bearable, so going without a single tub of the cool confection is tantamount to criminal insanity. For those with limited equipment and limited patience, there have been few solutions to this conundrum outside of an impromptu grocery trip. Thankfully, non-dairy alternatives are no longer the anomaly in mainstream markets, although homemade ice cream will still beat out anything prepackaged any day of the week.

This recipe today goes out to all those ice cream fiends without ice cream machines. Plenty of low-tech methods exist for fabricating frozen treats without fancy machinery, but let’s be honest: Few people, myself included, care to fuss with scraping ice crystals or tossing around a plastic bag of ice cubes all day, just for a few bites of sweet satisfaction.

Your icy irritation ends here. All you need is a freezer, four ingredients, and an appetite. I would wager that you’ve already got two out of three already covered.

The ingenious CocoWhip by So Delicious is the secret ingredient that makes this sweet act of alchemy possible. Providing light, scoopable structure without any further agitation, the same results can also be achieved with good old whipped coconut cream, but starting with a ready-whipped and exceptionally stable base makes the process infinitely easier.

As luck would have it, So Delicious recently launched their Snackable Recipe Contest, so it would have been crazy for me to hold onto this treat any longer. Besides, as much as I love cooking, summer is meant to be enjoyed, not spent in the kitchen. Whip up this effortless ice cream base and go play; you’ll have a delicious dessert waiting for you when you return.

No-Churn Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

2/3 Cup Vanilla Coconut Creamer
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1 9-Ounce Package Cocowhip

In a large bowl, stir together the creamer, agave, and vanilla. Add in one small scoop of the Cocowhip, stirring to incorporate and begin to lighten the mixture. Introduce half of the remaining Cocowhip, folding it carefully into the liquid, keeping the airy structure as intact as possible. Repeat with the last portion of Cocowhip, leaving a few streaks in the mixture if need be; it’s better to under-mix than over-mix.

Pour the ice cream base into a loaf pan or air-tight container and carefully move it into your freezer. Allow it to sit, undisturbed, for at least 6 hours before serving.

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