BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Mochi Madness

Standing outside on the first cold, crisp day of 2014, I could have sworn I heard the distinctive “don…don…don” of a kine (wooden mallet) striking an usu (stone mortar), far off in the distance. Though unlikely, the tradition of making mochi for oshogatsu is so ubiquitous in Japanese culture, it would be unthinkable for anyone immersed in the culture to ignore it. Pounding sweet glutenous rice into submission is no simple task, typically requiring a whole village to pitch in and churn out enough mochi to ring in the new year. Celebrations are based around the ritual and everyone gets something delicious as their reward. Though ozoni soup is the most authentic way to commemorate the turning of the calendar, ensuring good luck and prosperity for the coming months, mochi is the perfect blank canvas for any flavors sweet or savory. Naturally, my inclination is to play up its capacity for creating unique sweet treats.

Forget pounding stubborn grains of rice until your arms ache and your hands throb. This is mochi for the modern baker, dressed up in a rich cloak of chocolate, no less. Mochiko, otherwise known as finely powdered sweet rice flour, makes the process move along much more smoothly- literally. Crossing cultural boundaries and incorporating some unconventional ingredients, the resulting brownies are a curious hybrid of Japanese and American tastes. Shockingly decadent in comparison to the plain white spheres produced from typical methods, these mahogany brown squares are a definite indulgence, which strikes me as a fitting way to kick off a joyful new year. For anyone expecting a standard brownie though, the texture may come as a shock. Chewy with a delightfully bouncy, sticky texture between the teeth, it makes no secret of its glutenous rice foundation. To some who struggles with anything that isn’t either crispy-crunchy or pudding-soft, these may not be the most winning recipe.

For the rest of you adventurous eaters and bakers though, it’s a stunningly simple mash-up that’s long overdue. Have your mochi and enjoy it too, without any of the hard labor (or choking hazards) associated with the original. As a side bonus, these rice flour-based treats are “accidentally” gluten-free, so everyone can start their year on a sweet note!

Mochi Brownies

2 Cups Mochiko
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
9 Ounces (1 1/2 Cups) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 1/2 Cups Plain Vegan Creamer
1 14-Ounce Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Plain or Vanilla Vegan Yogurt
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 9 x 13-inch rectangular baking pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mochiko, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and powder, and salt. Stir until all the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the mixture and set aside.

Place the margarine and 6 ounces (1 cup) of the chocolate chips in a large, microwave-safe container along with half of the creamer. Microwave for a minute, stir well, and then continue heating at 30-second intervals, mixing thoroughly in between each new cycle, until the chocolate has completely melted. Add in the remaining measure of creamer plus the coconut milk, yogurt, and vanilla. Stir until smooth.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry and stir thoroughly with a wide spatula. Don’t worry about over-mixing, since there’s no gluten here that might form. Go ahead and beat the tar out of that batter! Toss in the remaining 3 ounces (1/2 cup) of chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Once there are no lumps remaining, transfer it into your prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 55 – 60 minutes, until dry and slightly crackled on top. The toothpick test won’t be particularly helpful for this brownie, so just trust your intuition when it appears to be done on the surface.

Let cool completely before slicing into bars.

Makes 16 – 24 Brownies

Printable Recipe


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The “F” Word

Just when you thought it was safe to open up your home to visitors once again, now that the tinsel dust and artificial pine scent has settled, I’ve come to ruin your day. More of a curse than a gift, it’s a dubious “treat” that has gained (and quite frankly earned) little respect over centuries of unsavory history. Not to be rude or anything, but it’s time that I dropped the F-bomb.

Fruitcake. Pardon my language.

Yes, I know, head for the hills and don’t accept packages from strangers; I’m offering you a genuine fruitcake, of all things! Trust me, I’ve been a very vocal naysayer of this brick-like food substance, never having seen the benefit to preserving mysteriously colored fruits in a metric ton of sugar before binding them all up into an impenetrable, flavorless batter. Better employed as entertaining projectiles than food stuffs, I would gladly get out there on the field with all the other unlucky fruitcake recipients as well. But, not with this new spin on the concept.

Rummaging through a pantry overstuffed with odd ingredients, I discovered an abundance of so-called “superfoods” that had no clear destination, and little use outside of random nibbles. Instead of simply frittering them away through impulse snacking, such special ingredients deserved a greater end. Baked up into a lighter cake than the traditional take, the crumb stays impossibly moist and does indeed only get better with age. Enhanced with the complex, caramel nuances of coconut sugar, volumes of flavor can shine through without the sticky veil of syrupy sweetness. Kombucha, with its very faintly alcoholic buzz, takes the place of harder liquor or rum here, so even teetotalers can indulge with abandon.

Of course, consider the exact superfruits and nuts listed here merely suggestions. As long as you throw in 1 1/2 – 2 cups of dried mix-ins in addition to the pomegranate arils, your cake will be golden… Literally, once baked.

Super-Fruitcake

1/2 Cup Fresh Pomegranate Arils
1/2 Cup Goji Berries
1/2 Cup Dried Mulberries
1/4 Cup Dried Goldenberries
1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs
1 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Zest
1/2 Cup Kombucha, Divided
1/3 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
2/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
2 Tablespoons Molasses
1 (3.5-Ounce) Packet Frozen Acai Puree, Thawed (or Applesauce, in a Pinch)

Confectioner’s Sugar, To Serve (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 6-inch round, 3-inch high cake pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the pomegranate arils, all of the dried superfruits, walnuts and cacao nibs. Add in the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cardamom, and zest, tossing to coat all of the goodies.

Remove 2 tablespoons of the kombucha and set aside for later. Separately, whisk together the remaining kombucha, coconut oil, coconut sugar, molasses, and acai puree until fairly smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together. A few lumps are fine, especially since it’s a fairly coarse mixture to begin with.

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out mostly clean, with just a few moist crumbs clinging to the sides. Immediately pour the reserved kombucha evenly over the hot cake so that it can soak in as it cools. After cooling completely, the cake sit covered at room temperature, for at least 24 hours for the best results.

If you’d like a little pinch of additional sweetness, top with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar right before serving.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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The Last Last-Minute Gift

Browse around the web for five minutes or more and you’ll undoubtedly run across at least a dozen “last-minute gift guides,” all touting effortless tokens for the people you forgot you should care about. Heartwarming stuff to consider right before Christmas, isn’t it? Since Chanukah has been long over for weeks now, it’s strange to watch it all unfold from the sidelines, without getting swept up in the madness as I usually do each year.

Of course, I do still have one suggestion here at the eleventh hour, but I’ll level with you: This post is more for my benefit, but you might just enjoy the results, too. Why sit on this fabulous candy recipe for another full calendar cycle, holding it back through the austere days of the New Year while everyone suffers a collective sugar hangover? While your sweet tooth is still in gear, set aside a few extra minutes for this simple yet transcendent treat. I had merely wanted to play around with the gold-tinted crystals of Zulka sugar that the company had been kind enough to send my way, but the toffee that came of my kitchen capers was anything but ordinary.

My dad, a man who knows his way around all things candy and an avowed sugar-supporter if I ever did meet one, claimed that this was some of the best toffee he ever had. No small compliment coming from such a knowledgeable source! So, if you find even one inch of space remaining on your cookie plate, in your candy baskets, or simply in your stomach, take that last-minute before the holidays all blow over to make yourself a batch. If one crisp, golden, nutty morsel of toffee is the last sugary taste on your lips for the rest of 2013, it would leave you with a sweet memory of the season indeed.

Golden Macadamia Toffee

1 Cup Toasted, Lightly Chopped Macadamia Nuts
2/3 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Zulka Sugar
1 Tablespoon Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, lightly grease, and sprinkle the macadamia nuts and white chocolate chips as evenly over the bottom as possible. Set aside.

Combine the margarine, sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar, and then keep your spatula out of the mixture until the very end. Instead, swirl the pan gently to mix the contents, which will help prevent premature crystal formation.

Allow the margarine to melt and sugar to dissolve before clipping a thermometer to the side of the pan. You’ll want to bring the sugar to a steady boil, until it turns a deep amber brown color and reaches 300 degrees, which is also known as the “hard crack stage” of candy making.

Turn off the heat, carefully stir in the vanilla as it may sputter angrily, and immediately pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Try to pour it evenly over the goodies within, because the more you spread it around with your spatula, the more you’ll smear the melting white chocolate. Don’t worry if it doesn’t reach all the way to the edges of the pan.

Let cool completely before snapping into more manageable pieces. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Printable Recipe


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Unfussy French Food

Hunkering down, deep within the thick folds of a well-worn comforter that has served its time for over a decade of hard winters, even that soft fortress can’t block out all of the invading icy air. Slipping in through the cracks, falling like the snow itself and covering everything in an invisible weight, there are few ways to fight off this attack. Drawn to warmth like a moth to light, inevitably, I find myself standing in the kitchen, blankets cast aside, in search of something to thaw me from within.

I know, I know, yet another post about being cold! I promise I’ll stop complaining from here on out, but the truth of the matter is that winter is here and there has never been a better time for a seriously robust, restorative stew. Ironically enough, this particular red wine-soaked play on the classic French Boeuf en Daube started life as little more than photography fodder way back in the revitalizing, sunlit days of spring. Searching desperately through the archives for this soothing stew, a rich and hearty melange of savory mushroom essence, salty olives, and gentle spices, I found that the formula was mysteriously missing in action. How could it have been withheld for all this time? To tease that image and not share a recipe is downright cruel, and for that terribly oversight, I’m very sorry!

Plenty of “beefy” stews exist out there, so this is far from ground-breaking material, but trust me: This is the last recipe you’ll ever need. Simply prepared, easily frozen and saved for later, and of course, that complex, intensely savory flavor that can only come from layers of quality ingredients, care, and time. This is what comfort tastes like, steamy enough to cut through any deep chill.

Non-Boeuf en Daube

2 Cups TVP Chunks or Soy Curls
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Finely Diced
5 – 6 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Cup Peeled and Diced Carrots
3/4 Cup Pitted Kalamata Olives
1 14-Ounce Can Fire-Roasted, Diced Tomatoes
1/4 Cup Dried Porcini Mushrooms, Finely Chopped
4 – 5 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
3 Small Bay Leaves
1 Cup Dry Red Wine
1 Cup Mushroom Broth
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Date Molasses
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Liquid Smoke
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cooked Rice or Pasta, to Serve (Optional)

Bring enough water to cover the TVP or soy curls (about 2 1/2 – 3 cups) to a boil and let stand for 30 minutes. Once your protein of choice has fully rehydrated, drain the excess liquid thoroughly and set aside.

Coat the bottom of a large pot with the oil and set on the stove over medium heat. Add in the onions and garlic when the oil begins shimmering, and saute for 4 – 5 minutes until golden brown. Introduce the carrots and olives next, cooking for another 3 minutes or so before incorporating the diced tomatoes, including the liquid they’re packed in, and dried mushrooms. Give the mixture a good stir and it come up to a steady simmer.

Go ahead and add in all of the remaining ingredients at this point and reduce the heat to low or medium low, keeping the stew at a very gentle simmer. Continue cooking until the carrots are meltingly tender and the liquid has significantly reduced. This could take anywhere from 2 – 3 hours, so be patient! The resulting nuanced depth of flavor cannot be rushed.

Remove the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme right before serving. Ladle over your favorite starch for maximum enjoyment.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Leftover Links: December Edition

Another month brings us another batch of sweet eats and food for thought, so let’s get right to it and dig in!

‘Tis the season for simple sugar cookies, and if you don’t yet have your recipe lined up, I have an excellent new option for you to consider. Made with a combination of standard all-purpose and sorghum flour, this unique blend turns out a dough that is easy to roll, won’t spread in the oven, and still retains a soft, chewy texture. Ideal for painless prep and enjoying later, it’s a win-win cookie for both the baker and the eater.

Winter weather may not be synonymous with cool, refreshing smoothies, but I’m doing my part to change that. In the winter issue of Allergic Living, I’ve shared three seasonal blends that are sure to satisfy, even if snow lines the ground in your neck of the woods, too.

Hurry on over to The Recipe Renovator for a chance to win five awesome new cookbooks (Easy as Vegan Pie included, of course) plus a whole bunch of fun kitchen toys and treats! You only have until tomorrow to enter, so don’t wait around to throw your hat in the ring. Stephanie has also shared my recipe for Rock’n Roll Elvis Pie, which you won’t want to miss, if only for that addictive Oinkless Bacon Brittle.

And for the curious, you can catch a brief interview with me written by Ellen Kanner, plus the recipe for Chocolate Chipotle Sweet Potato Pie at the end of the article.


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Another Iron in the Fire

Holiday shopping mania is predictably growing to a fever pitch yet again, making expeditions into any store a veritable mine field of aggressive sales pitches and tempting impulse buys. Shiny new toys beckon to both young and old, crowding out more rational thoughts of measured resistance. It’s easy to get sucked in, especially when deeper discounts promise “the best deals of the season!” no matter how many times the price is still sure to drop. Though I’m far from immune from this siren song, and probably the worst person to consult about saving vs. splurging, it’s simply become too much to stomach. Tired of watching every outing turn into yet another spending opportunity, I’m ready to swear off the stores and start shopping through my own dusty shelves instead.

There’s a whole trove of rarely used culinary treasures stashed away in kitchen cabinets and buried under the everyday staples. Move aside the gently warped sheet pans and cake tins flecked with faint patina, and once prized possessions suddenly come back into sharp focus. Humble, common, and yet so rarely employed, it’s the waffle maker that sits at the bottom of the stack, one of the oldest kitchen residents aside from the storage unit itself.

A victim of dish washing aversion, it’s not the usage, but the cleanup afterward that prevents me from plugging in and firing the iron up. Once silly excuses can be put aside, that small inconvenience is quickly forgotten by the ease of preparation. Putting it into perspective, such hassle is on par with managing mini muffin pans and their many crumb-filled crevasses that must be addressed. That’s a small price to pay for breakfast bliss, especially compared to the price tag of yet another superfluous gadget.

As for the waffles themselves, you truly can’t go wrong no matter what flavor adventure you embark upon. Basic batters tend to get a more appreciative reception around here, so I kept mix-ins to a minimum while infusing a pronounced pomegranate taste into every bite. If it were just me eating, I would toss in a generous handful of arils without a second thought, but that uniquely crunchy texture can be rather polarizing, as I’ve found with my typical panel of taste-testers. Regardless, the pomegranate molasses is not optional or replaceable, since nothing else will deliver the same deep, tangy, and slightly earthy punch.

Should that secret ingredient prove to be elusive, don’t let that become another excuse to let your waffle iron remain cold for another season! Consider the recipe below merely a template for crispy yet fluffy waffles of any flavor, given a few quick swaps. Use any fruit juice or even plain old water instead of pomegranate, lose the cinnamon or add more spices to the party, and consider maple syrup, agave nectar, or standard molasses instead of the pomegranate molasses. Once you start waffling again, you’ll wonder why you ever stopped in the first place.

Pomegranate Waffles

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
1/4 Cup Pomegranate Molasses

Begin by heating up your waffle iron so that it’s ready to go as soon as the batter is, too. Combine all the dry ingredients and then add in the wet. Stir to incorporate, but don’t over do it- A bit of lumpiness is just fine!

Once your iron is nice and hot, grease with cooking spray or margarine, and ladle a healthy portion of batter on top. It really depends on the size of your waffle iron, so don’t be discouraged if your first couple are a little bit funny looking. Cook for about 4 – 6 minutes or until golden brown all over and serve immediately.

If you’d like to save them for later, allow the waffles to cool for completely on a wire rack. Wrap them tightly in a clean plastic bag and stash them in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Yields about 4 – 6 large waffles, or 8 – 12 small, depending on the size of your waffle iron.

Printable Recipe


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Wish I Was There

Whipping bitterly cold gusts of air against my exposed skin, the wind howled mercilessly, landing a barrage of freezing punches from all directions. Inescapable, unrelenting, this assault makes each step outside feel like a mile away. Winter in New England can be a challenge to cope with on the best of days, and through the eyes of a SAD-sufferer, no day is a good day. Days blur, sloppily, slowly, into one ugly mess of endless slush, ice, and darkness.

Lighting the way through these murky moments is the promise of imminent escape. Having the foresight to book a ticket back to Hawaii while airfare was still reasonable was the smartest impulse buy (not to mention the most expensive) I made all year. Memories of warmth, sun, and genuine happiness fuel a stubborn persistence to keep hanging on just a little while longer. White-knuckling it through the stress of final exams and bleakness of winter’s descent, the day of departure simply can’t come soon enough.

In the meantime, the tastes of Hawaii provide some small comfort, a tiny tropical oasis in the midst of less favorable conditions. Turning back to those incredible macadamia nuts that I had been saving for a rainy day, stashed way back in the depths of the freezer for safe keeping, savory inspiration pulled me away from my standard palate of sweet ingredients.

Seeking something light and bright to contrast with all of the other, heavier comfort foods keeping me afloat, quinoa proved an ideal canvas to paint the colors of Honolulu upon. That concept turned out quite literally, as dried hibiscus blossoms (the official state flower) and red beet juice stained the white grains a dainty shade of dusty rose. Buttery macadamias and a generous splash of coconut milk lend richness to the otherwise lean pilaf, balancing the opposing desires for clean flavors and soothing touches of decadence. Flavored simply with a backdrop of garlic and scallions, the floral infusion is what sets the dish apart. Each bite brings back visions of brilliant blooms, stretching upwards to kiss the cloudless blue sky.

Although it won’t stop me from counting the days until my Hawaiian adventures begin anew, a heaping helping of warm quinoa does help time pass at least a little bit more easily- And certainly much more deliciously.

Mahalo Macadamia Quinoa Pilaf

2 1/3 Cups Water
6 Dried Whole Hibiscus Blossoms, or 6 Bags Hibiscus Tea
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cups) Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/4 Cup Red Beet Juice or Puree (Optional, for Color)
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Raw Quinoa
1 Cup Macadamia Nuts, Coarsely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
1 Large Sweet Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Large Scallion, Thinly Sliced

Place the water and hibiscus blossoms or tea bags in a large saucepan over medium heat, and bring the water to a boil. Cover, remove the pot from the stove, and allow the tea to steep for about 30 minutes.

Squeeze out and discard the spent blossoms or tea bags. Return the pot to the stove and introduce the coconut milk, beet juice or puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring the liquids to a full boil before adding in the quinoa. Cover and turn down the heat to low, keeping the contents of the pot at a gentle simmer. Cook for 16 – 20 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Turn off the heat but keep covered for 10 minutes to steam and finish cooking.

Meanwhile, toss the macadamia nuts into a dry skillet over medium heat, and stir constantly until they’re lightly toasted and smelling irresistibly nutty. Quickly transfer to the pot of quinoa to prevent them from burning and lightly wipe out the skillet.

Melt the oil to the skillet before adding in the onion and garlic. Saute, stirring periodically, until golden brown all over. Transfer to the pot of quinoa, along with the pepper and scallion. Mix thoroughly to combine and distribute the nuts and onions evenly throughout the quinoa. Stir in additional salt to taste, if desired.

Serve immediately while still warm, or chill for at least four hours for a refreshing cold salad.

Makes 6 – 8 Side Dish Servings

Printable Recipe

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