BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Salsa By Any Other Name

Typically conjuring up images of a raw, spicy, tomato-based condiment (or a spirited dance step, if you’re more of an active sort), salsa by any other parameters can be somewhat difficult to swallow. Divorced from the traditional fixings entirely, nouveau renditions may rely on unexpected bases such as corn, mango, or even coconut- Not a tomato or jalapeƱo in sight. Are these oddballs really salsa, or just another cold relish? Where is the line drawn, and where would my latest crazy concoction fall?

Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, the departure from traditional salsa is further reinforced by the herbaceous, acidic bite of chimichurri. Bold flavors define this gloriously green amalgamation; peppery, lemony, and vinegary all at once, the cooling vegetable backdrop proves to be an excellent canvas on which to paint the Argentinian marinade. It’s the Swiss army knife of toppings, perfectly suitable as a dip with chips, crowning soups and salads, or an hors d’oeuvre in and of itself. Filling the curved interior of endive leaves, a more elegant summer snack could not be served.

Thankfully, it turns out the “salsa” can be literally translated to “sauce” in Spanish, so it looks like anything goes for this expansive category. Although, I have to wonder how sauce-like my creation here is, considering the chunky texture and lack of liquid… But I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.

Chimichurri Avocado Salsa

1 Clove Garlic
2 Scallions, Roughly Chopped
1 (3-Ounce) Bunch Fresh Parsley
Zest of 1 Lemon
1 Tablespoon Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3 Ripe, Firm Avocadoes
1 1/2 Cups Finely Diced Jicama*

*To prepare jicama, first slice it in half, pole to pole. Peel the tough brown exterior away and cut it into 1cm slabs. Dice and toss into acidulated water (1 tablespoon of vinegar in about 3 – 4 cups of water should do the trick) to prevent browning. Rinse, drain, and dry thoroughly before using.

Pull out your food processor and toss in the garlic, scallions, parsley, and lemon zest. Pulse a few times to begin breaking down the herbs, pausing as need to scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure that everything reaches to blades. With the motor running, stream in the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice, until well-combined. Add in the pepper flakes and salt, and continue processing until the herbs are extremely fine, but not completely smooth.

Peel, pit, and dice the avocados, placing it in a large bowl along with the prepared jicama. Toss it with all of the herb mixture until evenly coated and distributed. Serve immediately, or chill for up to a day to allow the flavors to meld. The avocado may darken slightly when held overnight, so place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the salsa before sealing it in an air-tight container in the fridge to mitigate those effects.

Makes About 3 Cups

Printable Recipe


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Wild About Frozen Blueberries

I’ve been feeling blue lately… And rather happy about that! Blueberries are abundant once again and my appetite for the sweet, mildly tart and tangy berries is insatiable. For as many punnets as I plow through, my cravings remain unsatisfied. Even as we reach the peak of growing season, the produce on offer left something to be desired. The solution turned out to be just a few steps away, hidden in plain sight. A more intense blueberry experience lay not in the produce aisle, but the freezer case. Frozen Wild Blueberries, grown in Maine and Canada but available worldwide and year-round, are a whole lot more special than you may realize.

Oh sure, frozen Wild Blueberries boast considerable nutritional advantages over conventional, cultivated varieties, such as an unbeatable antioxidant levels just for starters, but that’s not what first lured me over to the wild side. It’s all about the flavor, and they sure do pack a giant punch of it into such tiny packages. That means that you’re getting about twice as many berries per cup, each with less water and more concentrated sweetness than fresh. For a baker concerned about runny pie filling or “bleeding” muffins, such a vast advantage over the competition is invaluable.

Considering the sudden an unpredictable heatwaves rippling through the east coast lately, my thoughts were focused squarely on cooler, more refreshing treats. Referring back to Vegan a la Mode for inspiration, cheesecake sounded like a luscious pairing that would best highlight these indigo gems. Bumping up the intensity with a bold pop of citrus, lemon zest turned the simple flavor pairing into a legitimate flavor party. Enjoying a slowly melting scoop in a fresh waffle cone, the jam-like Wild Blueberry swirl shaking up the creamy confection with the periodically bite of a whole berry, it was exactly the summer-loving taste I had been missing

And yet, that still wasn’t enough. What could possibly take this simple, sweet delight to the next level of dessert perfection?

How about sandwiching it between two thick squares of graham cracker cookie bars, adding more cheesecake character back into the equation while incidentally creating more portable treats? Yeah, that might finally do the trick.

If you should find yourself at a loss for how to dress up your very own frozen Wild Blueberries, and are hungry for a slightly less indulgent sort of refreshment, a good place to turn is Cooking Light‘s latest cookbook, Chill: Smoothies, Slushes, Shakes, Juices, Drinks & Ices. Though not a specifically vegan cookbook, most of the recipes are “accidentally” vegan, and all the rest easily veganizable. Though it may seem like a random tip to throw into the ring, now is the perfect time to check it out and potentially win your very own copy. See the details over at the Wild Blueberry blog ASAP! After all, the only thing better than a Wild Blueberry ice cream treat might be one paired with a tall glass of ice-cold Blueberry-Ginger Juice (page 125.)

Wild Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream Sandwiches

Wild Blueberry Swirl:

5 Ounces (About 3/4 Cups) Frozen Wild Blueberries, Thawed
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Cornstarch

Graham Cracker Cookies:

3/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3 Cups Finely Ground Graham Cracker Crumbs
2 Tablespoons Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
2 Tablespoons Vegan Sour Cream or Plain Yogurt

Lemon Cheesecake Ice Cream:

1/2 Cup (4 Ounces) Vegan Cream Cheese
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
Pinch Salt

Prepare the blueberry swirl first since it will take the longest to cook and fully chill. Combine all the ingredients in a medium sauce pan, stirring well before turning on the heat to break up any possible lumps of starch. Cook over medium heat, stirring periodically, until the mixture comes up to a full boil. Turn down the heat slightly so that it stays at a lively simmer, and cook for 1 minute longer, until thickened.

Remove from the stove, cool to room temperature, and then place in the fridge to chill until cold; about 2 – 3 hours.

Moving along to the graham cracker cookie, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch rectangular baking pan.

Place the margarine and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer, and cream the two together using the paddle attachment. Once thoroughly beaten and homogeneous, pause the mixer and add in the graham cracker crumbs, ground flaxseeds, salt, cinnamon, and vegan sour cream or yogurt. Starting at the lowest speed, allow the mixer to gently incorporate the newest addition, and continue stirring until the entire mixture is moist will stick together when pressed.

Transfer to your prepared pan and spread it out evenly over the bottom. Press it firmly into a smooth layer, using your hands or the bottom of a flat measuring cup.

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool completely before turning the whole cookie sheet out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Use a very sharp knife to slice it cleanly down the middle, forming two equal pieces. Trim away the dark edges so that it measures about 8 inches wide and 5 – 6 inches long.

Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, and carefully place one of the squares inside, fitting it snugly against three of the four edges. Pull the foil up against the remaining side that comes up slightly short. Place the pan and the remaining square of graham cracker cookie in the fridge.

Meanwhile, the ice cream itself comes together very quickly. Simply pile all of the ingredients into your blender and puree briefly, just until smooth. Blend no longer than necessary to prevent the mixture from warming up.

Pour the ice cream base into your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Pull out your square baking pan and spoon the soft ice cream on top of the graham cookie sheet inside. Smooth out the ice cream to evenly cover the cookie. Spread the blueberry swirl mixture on top, and use a spatula to swirl both components together. Finally, place the remaining rectangle of graham cracker cookie on top, and press down gently. Immediately move the pan into your freezer and let rest until solidified; at least 8 hours and ideally 12 or more. Slice the large ice cream sandwich into smaller rectangles and enjoy.

Makes 9 – 12 Ice Cream Sandwiches

Printable Recipe

This post was written for and is sponsored by Wild Blueberries, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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Don’t Crepe Out!

Crepes, those seemingly innocent sheets of batter, endlessly versatile and much loved by eaters across the globe, have been my sworn enemies for as long as I’ve been tall enough to reach the stove top. Most culinary endeavors spur me on, encourage me to rise to the challenge and tackle whatever crazy concept has become embedded in my brain, but crepes? Crepes managed to elude me, through countless attempts and a hundred different recipes. There’s nothing fancy about the batter, resembling a watery pancake base and incorporating standard pantry staples at its most basic, but my hands always failed me once the pan hit the flame. A whole batch of batter would yield one, maybe two serviceable crepes after an hour or more of labor, dozens of other torn, gooey, sticky flapjack sheets landing in the trash, rather than the plate. It could all be chalked up to a lack of finesse at first, those fumbling memories becoming exacerbated by a lack of confidence. I needed help; a crepe intervention, if you will.

Help came in the form of Rachel Carr, a professional crepe wrangler and chef of Six Main in Chester, Connecticut. Offering a brunch class that featured my old nemesis as a star component, it was just the refresher course I needed. Wrapping up a seasonal melange of asparagus and mushrooms within, she highlighted their versatility, playing to their savory side but leaving options for a sweeter conversion. Packed full of tender green stalks and soft, toothsome sauteed shiitake, bursting with umami, the combination makes a strong case for using crepes beyond the dessert course.

Standing over the industrial stove, nimbly flipping one crepe after another without any drama, my own crepe compunctions no longer seemed quite so insurmountable. What’s more, these were gluten-free crepes, lacking the benefit of a wheat base to hold them together. If this formula was so cooperative, so sturdy, the process of turning the liquid mixture into a pliable wrap must be simply a matter of practice. With years of brunch service under her belt, Rachel could very well churn them out in her sleep.

Thus, I don’t yet have my own twist on them, only the inspiration to strike back out in the world of crepes, gluten-free recipe in hand. Rachel so kindly agreed to share her secret formula, ending years of struggle and hunger, effectively putting crepes back on the menu where they belong.

Asparagus and Mushroom Crepes
Reprinted with Permission from Rachel Carr of Six Main

Crepe Batter*:

1 Cup Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Water
1 Teaspoon Coconut Oil
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
Pinch Salt

Filling:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Bunch (Approximately 3/4 Pound) Asparagus
6 – 8 Shiitake Mushroom Caps, Sliced into Strips
1/4 Large Red Onion, Diced
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Hollandaise Sauce:

1/2 Pound Firm Tofu
1/2 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 – 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
2 1/2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/8 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/8 Teaspoon Paprika
1/8 Teaspoon Turmeric (Optional) for Color

To Finish:

Fresh Tarragon, Chives, Scallions, or Parsley, Chopped (Optional)

Whisk together all the ingredients for the crepe batter, until smooth, and set aside.

Prepare the filling by heating the oil in a saute pan over medium heat, and cook all the vegetables until aromatic and slightly soft; 8 – 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the pan from the heat but keep the filling warm.

The hollandaise sauce is made by tossing everything into the blender and pureeing until completely smooth. This can be prepared up to 5 days in advance if stored in the fridge.

Return your attention to the crepe batter, and add up to 1/4 cup of additional water if it has thickened further. It should be the consistency of loose pancake batter, thin enough to spread easily over your pan. Heat a crepe pan or medium skillet with a flat bottom over medium-low heat, and whip the surface very lightly with coconut or olive oil. You don’t need much to prevent it from sticking.

Ladle or pour about 1/4 – 1/3 cup of crepe batter into the pan and swirl it around until the bottom is completely covered. Cook until very lightly browned and the edges begin to curl. Flip the crepe, either using a snap of the wrist or a spatula, and cook the other side briefly, just one or two minutes longer. Slide the finished crepe out of the pan and onto a plate. Fill with the hot mushroom and asparagus mixture, spoon a dollop of the hollandaise on top, and either roll the crepe up or simply fold it in half. Top with an additional drizzle of hollandaise sauce and a sprinkle of fresh herbs, if desired. Repeat until the batter and filling have been used up.

Makes 4 – 6 Filled Crepes

*To convert these to sweet crepes, increase the agave to 2 tablespoons and, obviously, use a more dessert-like filling!

Printable Recipe


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Eau de Risotto

Perfume is one of the greatest public threats, especially when lavished with careless excess. Smelling good is an admirable desire, one to be encouraged for sure, but the chemical cocktails that some hapless souls feel compelled to bathe in are far more offensive than a little B.O. Sensitivity to scents is on the rise, perhaps from overexposure, but the average cologne has simply never appealed to me, always too pungent and completely unfamiliar. If I ever wanted to smell like something other than myself, it wouldn’t be an indescribable aroma defined only by a brand name, but something edible. Anyone who knows me probably saw this one coming, but food scents are a completely different story, literally adding a welcome spice to the day.

For years, vanilla extract was my perfume of choice; a dab on the wrist and behind the ears set me in the right mood for a day at school. Floor cleaner is best in lemon, that bright citrus simply screaming out “I’m clean!” far clearer than any product touting itself as ocean wave, or the equally mysterious “fresh rain.” Likewise, my hand soap smells like tomato vines and body lotion has notes of cucumber.

Call me scent-sensitive, but these omnipresent aromas affect not only my mood, but also my cravings in a big way. That fact became abundantly clear as soon as a new grapefruit facial scrub was incorporated into the daily beauty routine. Within just a few washes, I found myself yearning for a taste of that bold, sour, sprightly flavor. Never mind that it had been years since I last sampled this blushing citrus fruit- I suddenly couldn’t get enough, eating them straight and incorporating the segments into just about everything.

That’s where this highly aromatic risotto came in. Perfumed with grapefruit, juicy chunks of the flesh are sprinkled throughout, bursting with bitterness that perfectly cuts the rich, creamy base. Accented by the spice of wasabi and a topping of peppery watercress, it’s a lively savory side that may very well steal the show at dinner time. Don’t fight those strong flavors, but pair it with a more mild protein, such as tamari-baked tofu or a simple chicken-style seitan cutlet. Otherwise, feel free to turn it into a one-pot meal by adding in a can of rinsed chickpeas, or 2 cups of shelled fava beans for a real seasonal treat.

No matter how many offensive scents you may encounter in your daily trials and tribulations, the aroma of this risotto bubbling away on the stove will surely set you right.

Grapefruit and Wasabi Risotto

2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil or Olive Oil
1 Leek, Thoroughly Washed and Thinly Sliced (White and Light Green Parts Only)
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 – 3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Sushi Rice
3 – 4 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock, Warmed
1/4 Cup Mirin
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1 Large Pink Grapefruit
1/2 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Creamer or Coconut Milk
1 1/2 – 3 Teaspoons Wasabi Paste*

To Finish:

1 Medium Ripe Avocado
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
2 – 4 Ounces Watercress
Avocado or Olive Oil (Optional)

*The amount of heat that wasabi paste packs varies greatly depending both on brand and age. Most are still mixtures of horseradish and vinegar, but what’s more concerning is the occasional inclusion of milk-based additives, so read labels carefully. The longer you keep a tube in the cupboard, the less spicy it will taste, so keep that in mind as you begin to incorporate it into your cooking and adjust the quantities accordingly.

Set a large saucepan over medium heat and warm the oil before adding in the leek and garlic. Saute for 5 – 8 minutes, until softened and aromatic, before stirring in 1/4 teaspoon salt to draw out more of the vegetables’ moisture. Incorporate the rice, stirring to coat, and cook until translucent; about 3 – 4 minutes.

Pour in the first cup of warm vegetable stock, mirin, and nutritional yeast, reducing the heat to medium-low, keeping the liquid at a gentle simmer. Stir periodically, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot with your spatula to prevent the mixture from sticking and burning. Once the liquid has mostly absorbed into the grains, add in another cup of vegetable stock.

Meanwhile, zest the grapefruit and hold the zest off to the side. Supreme the fruit, lightly chopping the segments into bite-sized pieces.

After about 25 minutes of cooking, the liquid should have absorbed into the rice, and the rice will be creamy but tender. Turn off the heat and add the creamer, grapefruit zest, and 1 1/2 teaspoons wasabi paste, stirring thoroughly. Gently fold in the chopped grapefruit pieces, being careful not to smash them or break them up further. Add more salt or wasabi paste to taste.

To serve, thinly slice the avocado and toss it in the lemon juice. Spoon out the portions of risotto into bowls and top each one with a few slices of avocado and a generous handful of watercress. Drizzle with an additional drizzle of oil if desired. Enjoy immediately while piping hot!

Serves 3 – 5 as a Side Dish

Printable Recipe


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Poke Fun at Soybeans

Despite rising temperatures and flourishing green foliage, my mind still wanders back to the tropical coasts of Hawaii. So distant in memory that it all seems like a dream, it’s hard to imagine what paradise looks like at this time of year. If the seasons don’t change drastically, do the foods? Although I’m one of the biggest proponents out there for eating seasonally, part of me clings to the hope that nothing ever changes on the islands. Without distinct seasons, it’s a perfectly reasonable concept, I reason with myself, trying to ignore how selfish the desire is. Truthfully, nothing ever stays quite the same, but I’m optimistic that the food culture will remain just as vibrant day in and day out, unfettered by the passage of time.

Progress is definitely on the horizons, and that is one adjustment I would never stand in the way of. Vegan renditions of classic Hawaiian fare proved somewhat difficult to come by, making the random sighting of soybean poke at a nondescript Foodland grocery store such a delightful shock to the system. Were my eyes deceiving me? Poke, defined as a preparation of raw fish, in bean format? Not a chance in hell would I leave without this fabulous impulse buy; a full pound came back to the hotel room with me that evening, and not an ounce remained by daybreak.

A stroke of simple brilliance, the combination of flavors fuse to create something that all palates can appreciate. With the savory flavors of garlic, soy sauce, and the bright pop of red pepper flakes melded throughout, you can’t go wrong. It was the first thing I tried to recreate upon my return home, so it’s about time this appetizer made it into the blog’s spotlight. For parties or gatherings, this stuff goes fast- You may want to double or even triple the amounts.


Soybean Poke

1 Pound Frozen Edamame in Shells
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon (3 – 4 Cloves) Finely Minced Garlic
1/8 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
3 Tablespoons Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce
Coarse Sea Salt, to Taste

In a medium or large stock pot, set about 2 quarts of water over medium heat and cover with the lid. Bring it up to a boil before tossing in the frozen edamame- No need to thaw. Boil uncovered for 3 – 4 minutes, until the pods are thawed and tender. If you overcook them, the beans will start ejecting themselves from their shells, but they’re still just as tasty, if a bit softer in texture. Drain thoroughly.

Meanwhile, combine both oils and the minced garlic in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is aromatic but not quite browned. Add in the prepared edamame along with the red pepper flakes and soy sauce, tossing to incorporate. Saute for just 2 – 3 minutes longer to infuse the soybeans with the marinade.

Turn off the heat and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add a pinch of salt over the top if desired, but use that salt sparingly! The soy sauce already adds quite a bit of sodium into the mix, so you may find it doesn’t need any extra at all.

Enjoy hot or or at room temperature.

Makes 4 – 6 Snack-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe


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Sweet Sixteen

Sixteen is typically the year that one bridges the gap from childhood to adulthood, coming of age through the lens of tradition. Though not much really changes, aside from the ability to achieve legal employment, the number symbolizes great expectations for any young pup. But what about an actual pup? Age ain’t nothing but a number, especially now that my old lady clocks in at 77 years old in dog years. She may not be on the path to a promising career at this rate, but she does still have plenty to look forward to, like cake, for starters.

Inspired by the need for softer treats to better suit her particular dental situation, cake-like cookies seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Cookies aren’t quite enough to celebrate such a significant event, though, so I turned to my favorite cookie with an identity crisis: The whoopie pie (or in this case, “woofie” pie.) It’s definitely not a pie, despite the name, and much more like a mini-cake than a sandwich cookie, but semantics aside, they’re hard to resist. Using carob to keep them dog-friendly rather than chocolate, they look just as delicious as their traditional counterparts, but you might want to stick to the classic to suit a human palate. Added sugar is something my baby simply doesn’t need in her diet, so these treats look much sweeter than they actually taste. Additionally, dogs shouldn’t get excessive amounts of salt, so you’ll notice that it’s lacking in this formula as well. Regardless of what it does and doesn’t contain, Isis didn’t care much as she wolfed down her birthday surprise in record time. It may not be as grand as the plated dessert I lavished on her a few years back, but I’d like to believe it was met with equal appreciation.

Woofie Pies

Carob Sandwich Coookies:

1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1/4 Cup Carob Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
3/4 Cup 100% Carrot Juice or No Salt Added Vegetable Stock
1/4 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Canned Pumpkin Puree
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Cream Filling:

1 Cup White Potatoes, Peeled, Diced, Boiled, and Mashed*

*Potatoes are safe for dogs to eat, but you must be very careful about their preparation. The potatoes must be thoroughly and completely cooked- Never feed a dog raw potato. Likewise, never use any potatoes that have any green parts, as those are highly toxic to dogs. For a more complete list of foods to avoid when cooking for canines, check here.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with either parchment paper or silpats.

Carob can be rather clumpy, so be sure to sift it before measuring if necessary. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, carob powder, baking powder and soda, distributing the dry goods equally throughout the mixture. In a separate bowl, combine the carrot juice or vegetable stock, vinegar, pumpkin puree, and oil, stirring lightly to break up the pumpkin. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and mix with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together with few lumps. There’s no need to beat it completely smooth, but make sure that there are no pockets of flour remaining.

Use a small cookie scoop or two spoons to portion out equal, walnut-sized dollops of the batter on your prepared baking sheet, spaced about 1 inch apart. Bake one sheet at a time for 6 – 9 minutes, until the edges are set and a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely on the sheets before filling.

For the cream filling, simply mash the cooked potato until it’s completely smooth and spread about 1 – 2 teaspoons on the flat side of one cookie. Top with a second, and repeat until all the cookies are filled. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Makes 24 Cookies or 12 Filled Woofie Pies

Printable Recipe


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Jay Kitchen NYC

Some experiences defy words, despite how many things remain to be said. Pop-up restaurants come and go by definition, a fleeting glimpse into a chef’s vision unleashed on the plate, but the memory of Jay Kitchen will stay with me for a very long time. Eight courses, many familiar faces, countless new friends, all packed into one evening. Even if the food had been middling it was a recipe for success, but let me assure you, conversation came to an abrupt halt with each new dish. Eating and savoring, the quiet was periodically interrupted only with utterances of pleasure.

What really gets me is the fact that Jay Astafa, mastermind behind all this, is only 20 years old. 20! Younger than me by four years, and so immensely talented, so accomplished. Now the tables are turned and I understand why so long ago, many writers felt it necessary to preface any article about my first book with a mention of my age.

Though I lingered in the kitchen quite a bit more than was perhaps helpful to the cooks buzzing about, assembling and sending out plates at the speed of lightning, the kindness and warmth I felt throughout the entire night was incredible. Never before have the staff actually raised the lights in the entire dining room so that I could get better photos. Or let me in the shoebox-sized kitchen, in the teeth of the dinner rush, snapping away amid the chaos. Any decent photos I stole should be credited to everyone behind the scenes and the lengths they went through to accommodate me. It was a simply amazing evening.

And that’s not to mention the food itself. I find myself tongue-tied trying to describe what I tasted, so unparalleled in its finesse that comparisons are impossible. Though the temptation to describe each dish in painstaking detail remains strong, I really think that the photos speak for themselves…

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Pop it Like it’s Hot

Upon arrival in Hawaii, there were only a few foods I knew were must-eats, and Hurricane Popcorn was near the top. A simple concept that has won fiercely loyal fans, boxes are said to be smuggled back the mainland by those in the know, craving the distinctive island snack food. Found in both popped and unpopped formats, the microwave bags are the only way to go for the true Hurricane Popcorn experience.

Broken down into separate packets containing popcorn kernels, dry toppings, and buttery flavor, it became immediately obvious that a homemade equivalent would be just about as complex to assemble. Salty, rich, and packed with umami, its appeal is easy to understand, but the ingredients themselves are rather unsavory. In the same vein as “slimy yet satisfying,” those glistening, crispy kernels made a lasting impression as “good but greasy.” Certainly, we can all do better… So after returning home, that’s just what I did.

Of course, never satisfied to go the basic route, I tried to one-up the original by making my own savory, soy sauce-infused mochi pieces, more true to the description than the dry rice crackers included in a plastic baggie. Though it’s not technically mochi, the sticky pounded rice cakes typically enjoyed for desserts, arare do fit the bill better for this unique snack application. Simpler is truly better, so don’t be fooled by the above photo; to best satisfy the next Hawaiian-inspired snack attack, do as I say, not as I do.

Homemade Hurricane Popcorn

2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1/2 Cup Unpopped Popcorn Kernels
3 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
3 – 4 Tablespoons Ao Nori
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Seeds (White, Black, or a Blend)
1 Cup Hana Arare (Flower-Shaped Rice Crackers)
Flaky Sea Salt, to Taste

In a large stock pot with high sides, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Place 3 – 4 popcorn kernels in the pot, cover, and once one pops, that will mean your oil has come up to the right temperature to really get popping. Add the remaining unpopped popcorn into the pan and cover the pan once more.

Gently shake the pan over the heat, still covered, to pop the kernels evenly and prevent already popped corn from burning. When the pace of popping slows to one pop every 3 – 5 seconds, remove the pan from the heat. Keep the pot covered while the final kernels pop; about 3 minutes. Carefully lift the lid away from you, as there will be a good deal of very hot steam looking to escape.

Meanwhile, melt the margarine in a microwave-safe dish, heating for 30 – 60 seconds. Transfer the popped corn to your desired serving bowl, leaving any unpopped kernels in the bottom of the pot. Drizzle the melted margarine all over, tossing to coat. Sprinkle in the nori flakes, sesame seeds, and salt, to taste. Finally add the arare right on top, and stir gently to incorporate. Enjoy right away!

Makes Approximately 4 Quarts (About 4 Servings)

Printable Recipe


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Water, Water, Everywhere, and Only Soup to Drink

The world’s biggest water fight is going on right now, amid the hottest month of the year. Songkran, a celebration of the Thai New Year, has captured my imagination and jealousy for a number of years now. Temperatures can reach well into the 90′s, if not topple the scale and breach 100 degrees, which makes the waterworks both symbolic and necessary to keep one’s cool. Wash away the previous year’s misfortunes, transgressions, and any other ill will to start fresh and clean once more. Taking place April 13 – 15, anyone who’s not already sopping wet on the streets has missed the boat on this experience, but someday, it could be the trip of a lifetime. Just be sure to pack a bathing suit and plenty of towels.

Hot soup may not be the most appropriate dish for an actual Thai celebration, but for better or for worse, our April climate is considerably more mild. The time seemed ripe to dig this gem out from the recipe archive, especially since it had sat there for years without ever being made. Flipping through the recipe binder at Health in a Hurry one day, trying to straighten up the pages with Sue close at hand, I stumbled across this unassuming paper, filled with bright, exotic flavors that I had never seen grace our little soup bar. Without missing a beat, Sue scanned the paper and gave me her blessing to share it with the world, rather than let such a stunning formula go to waste. It’s such a shame that it took me well over another year to finally do so.

If you had seen that original recipe, though, you might understand. Only if you knew Sue could you translate such scripture. After a few tweaks for personal taste and volume, I had my own edible Thai festival for dinner.

Thai Vegetable Soup

1 Tablespoon Peanut or Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Jalapeno
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Garlic
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Ginger
1/2 Cup Red Bell Pepper, Sliced into 1-Inch Batons
1/4 Cup Jicama, Peeled and Sliced into 1-Inch Batons
1/4 Cup Carrot, Peeled and Sliced into 1-Inch Batons
1/2 Cup Sliced Button Mushrooms
1 14-Ounce Cans Diced Tomatoes
1 Tablespoon Lemongrass, Finely Chopped and Bruised
3 – 4 Kaffir Lime Leaves (Optional)
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
3 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/2 Cup Snow Peas
1/2 Cup String Beans, Cut into 1-Inch Pieces
1/2 Cup Frozen Peas
1/2 Cup Asparagus, Cut into 1-Inch Pieces
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste
2 Tablespoons Fresh Mint, Roughly Torn or Chopped

Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat before adding in the jalapeno, ginger, and garlic. Saute for 4 – 5 minutes, until highly aromatic. Add in the sliced pepper, jicama, carrot, and mushrooms, and cook for another 4 – 5 minutes until very lightly browned. Pour in the can of tomatoes, liquid and all, and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze the delicious brown bits that may be sticking.

Bundle up the bashed lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, if using, in a tea bag. Drop it into the stock pot along with the lime juice and 3 cups of the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Let the soup simmer gently for about 10 – 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender but still crisp. Toss in the snow peas, string beans, frozen peas (no need to thaw) and asparagus, stirring to incorporate. Cook for just 2 minutes, until the newest vegetable additions are bright green.

Give the soup a taste, and add the final cup of stock if desired, and salt and pepper as needed. Remove and discard the tea bag full of aromatics. Top off with fresh mint and serve immediately.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

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The Lost Recipes

Ironic, isn’t it, that falling behind on my homework may allow me to finally catch up on my blog backlog? It sounds like nonsense, but let me explain: Every blogger’s recipe archive is their fail safe, plan B in case of emergencies, lack of time, or failure of inspiration. The content may not be the most compelling, which is why it was withheld in the first place, but there are always some gems buried in the back of this Pandora’s box. The danger of forgetting those treasures is very real, however, as time moves on and exciting new recipes are thrust into the spotlight, ahead of all other prepared posts.

My own archive is a pretty sorry sight. Laughably bad photos from my point-and-shoot days mingle freely with those that are print-ready. Half-written recipes are the norm, rather than the exception, and are still head and shoulders better than the files filled only with rough measurements and little useful instruction. It takes some digging, but there are still a good number of salvageable creations that should never have gotten lost in the shuffle to begin with. Focusing more on the school work that continues to pile up leaves me with no spare time to create fresh content. In this case, it may just be a blessing in disguise, should it finally allow lost but not forgotten recipes see the light of day.

Take this sandwich bread, for example. A soft, subtly sweet golden crumb thanks to the addition of mashed sweet potato, I would gladly eat such a creation right this minute. The photo may not win any beauty contests, but I couldn’t recreate it for a new shoot, because this recipe was born of my experiments with sourdough, many moons ago. Fun while it lasted, that was a venture abandoned after many sourdough casualties.

It seems a shame that anyone with more sourdough skills should be deprived of this delicious recipe because of my forgetfulness, though. The bread itself may be long gone, but thank goodness recipes never go stale.

Sweet Potato Sourdough Bread

1/2 Cup Active, Unfed Sourdough Starter
1/2 Cup Warm Water
3/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Instant Dry Yeast
1 Cup Plain Mashed Sweet Potatoes (Peeled, Boiled, Mashed Smooth; Nothing Added)
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3 – 4 Cups White Whole Wheat flour

Combine the first four ingredients in a large, non-metallic bowl and blend well. Cover and let rise until light and bubbly; overnight in a cool kitchen or 4 – 6 hours in a warm kitchen.

Stir down this sponge and add mashed sweet potatoes, non-dairy milk, salt, ginger, oil, sugar and half of the white whole wheat flour; mix well. Once fully incorporated, gradually stir in enough remaining flour to you create a soft, pliable, dough. Continue kneading for about 15 minutes, only adding more flour as needed to prevent stickiness. Dough should be soft and smooth yet pliable and still slightly tacky. Place dough in an oiled bowl, roll it about to coat, cover and let rise double in a warm place. Allow about 2 hours for it to double in volume.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan.

Punch down dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Let rest 10 minutes on the counter before flattening it out . Shape into loaf and place into your prepared loaf pan with the seam side down. Cover and let rise to top of bread pan.

Right before popping the loaf in the oven, use a very sharp knife or blade to slash the dough lengthwise, straight down the center. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes or until golden brown all over. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before moving the loaf to a cooling rack until it comes to room temperature. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 1 Loaf

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