BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Tuna of the Field

It’s not what it looks like.

No, it’s not a poorly timed April Fool’s prank and no, I have not begun eating fish (perish the thought!) What you’re looking at is in fact good old fashioned watermelon, dressed up like ahi poke, the highly prized Hawaiian delicacy. Rather than mere eye candy, believe it or not, these ruby red cubes really do taste quite fishy- And in a good way! What really seals the deal is the texture, no longer bearing the crisp bite that you would want for an average melon, but meaty and downright silky on the tongue.

The concept for watermelon-based tuna is one that I heard of many years back, created with the aid of a chamber vacuum sealer to compress the melon flesh while simultaneously infusing new flavors. Lacking such expensive equipment, the idea languished in the back of my head, until a surplus of the sweet summer fruit prompted me to go beyond standard preparations. Turns out that it only takes a simple freeze and thaw cycle to transform fresh produce into something of a more oceanic nature. This is one that requires nice firm watermelon to start with, so don’t wait until the season ends and only mealy melons remain. Act now, and keep the “fish” stashed in the freezer until you’re ready to enjoy up to four months later.

Not only does it make an unbeatable poke bowl, but it’s perfectly suited to just about any other raw preparation you can imagine, such as tuna tartare. A perfectly savory appetizer deserving a place at even the fanciest affair, this mustard- and caper-spiked combination pairs well with crackers, plain, seeded, or herbed. Really, the sky’s the limit, as I enjoyed mine on top of leafy green salads as well.

Creating a delicious vegan fish alternative has long been the final frontier for meatless cooking, and I believe this brings us all one giant leap closer to that holy grail.

Fish-Free Watermelon Tuna

1 Cup Mushroom Broth
4 Tablespoons Reduced-Sodium Tamari
2 Tablespoons Olive or Sauerkraut Brine
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Chickpea Miso Paste or White Miso Paste
1 Small Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
2 Sheets Nori
1 1/2 Pounds Cubed Seedless Watermelon

In a large, shallow container, whisk together the mushroom broth, tamari, brine, vinegar, miso paste, and minced garlic. Place the cubes of watermelon into the marinade so that all of the pieces are covered, ideally in a single layer. Arrange the sheets of nori so that they cover the melon and make contact with at least one side of all the pieces. You may need to move things around so that you have a sheet of nori at the bottom of the container and one on top to achieve this layout.

Cover with plastic wrap and place the container on a flat surface in your freezer. Allow the whole thing to fully freeze; at least 12 hours, but ideally 24 or longer. If you want to save the “tuna” for a later date, just leave it at this stage until you’re ready to serve it. To continue preparing your fish-free feast, allow the tuna to fully thaw either in the fridge or at room temperature. Remove and discard the wet nori, and drain away the excess marinade. You can save this and reuse it if you like, since there’s no potential bacterial contamination like you would get if using raw meat. Your watermelon tuna is now ready to eat or use in other recipes!

Ahi Poke:

1 Batch Fish-Free Watermelon Tuna (Above)
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Tablespoon Reduced-Sodium Tamari
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Fresh Limu or Rehydrated Arame, to Taste (Optional)

Tuna Tartare:

1 Batch Fish-Free Watermelon Tuna (Above)
2 Teaspoons Brined Capers, Drained and Rinsed
1 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
2 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Shallot
2 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Parsley
4 Teaspoons Olive Oil

For either the ahi poke or tuna tartare options, simply mix all of the ingredients together and gently toss in the “tuna” to combine. Let marinate in the fridge for up to a day, but at least one hour before serving. Top freshly cooked, hot white rice with the ahi poke to make a classic poke bowl, and finish with sesame seeds if desired. The tartare can be served up plain, with crackers, or tossed with salad greens.

Printable Recipe


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Cheesecake For a Sweet New Year

Even to the seasoned eater approaching new cuisines with an open mind, it can still be difficult to fully embrace something that falls well outside of established norms. Far beyond unexpected flavor combinations or uncommon ingredients, raw “uncooking” essentially turns the entire concept of hot food preparation on its head. Largely due to a lack of exposure, the concept remains abstract at best for most of the world, which I’m quickly learning is a real shame. Working with the incredibly talented Gena Hamshaw on her upcoming cookbook has open my eyes, radically changing the way I view raw foods in general. Rather than the crazy gourmet raw foods we so often see in fine restaurants, the heart and soul of raw edibles is more about ease and straight-forward ingredients that are manipulated as little as possible. Inspired by her revolutionary recipes, I couldn’t stop thinking in the raw when it came time to craft my annual Rosh Hashanah dessert.

Apples and honey, the symbol of a sweet New Year, are almost painfully common flavors for the occasion, but a fresh approach to the presentation makes it taste new and exciting once more. Building the dessert on a crust made of dried apples and nuts, the apple flavor is intense, concentrated down into a small package, and packing a huge punch in even tiny wedges. For the honey component, it may or may not pass the scrutiny of the raw police, but nothing can even touch the floral sweetness of Bee-Free Honee. I had the pleasure of reviewing it for Laika Magazine a million moons ago, or so it feels, and have been hooked ever since. Dark agave can substitute in a pinch, but nothing else comes close to the incredibly accurate flavor that this honee bears, without the input of a single bee. Besides, what could be better for the holiday than a “honey” that is in fact made out of apples? There’s something quite poetic about that synchronicity.

As for the topping, well, that’s a case of “do as I say, not what I do.” Walking in the door of my Nana’s house with cheesecake in hand, everyone who laid eyes on the original presentation feared that I had topped my treat with slivers of raw red onion. Immediately scrapping that concept and grabbing the first green apple I found, thin half-moons were much more visually pleasing, and the different color helped erase that initial unsavory impression. As I’ve now learned, this is an opportunity to leave the fancy garnishes at home- The rich flavors will speak for themselves.

Raw Apples and Honey Cheesecake

Apple-Pecan Crust:

1 Cup Chopped Raw Pecans or Walnuts
1 Cup Dried Apple Rings, Firmly Packed
2 Large Medjool Dates, Pitted
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Honee-Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Filling:

1 Cup Raw Macadamia Nuts, Soaked for at least 6 Hours
1 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces, Soaked for at least 6 Hours
3 Ounces (6 Tablespoons) 100% Pure, Food-Grade Cocoa Butter, Melted
1/2 Cup Bee-Free Honee
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Whole Vanilla Bean

To Finish (Optional):

1 Large Green Apple
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice

For the crust, start by tossing the pecans or walnuts into your food processor with the s-blade installed. Pulse thoroughly until the nuts are mostly broken down into a fairly fine but coarse powder. Add in the dried apples, dates, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse again to incorporate. Continue processing until the fruits are blended in, no large chunks remain, and the mixture sticks together when pressed. Transfer to a 9-inch round springform pan and use your hands to press it firmly and evenly across the bottom. If it proves too sticky to easily handle, lightly moisten your hands before proceeding, or use the bottom of a flat measuring cup to help achieve a smoother surface. Stash the pan in the fridge while you move on to the filling.

Thoroughly drain the macadamias and cashews before placing them in either your blender. A high-speed blender is definitely recommended to achieve the smoothest texture, but with a good bit of patience, a standard blender can suffice. Add in the melted cocoa butter, bee-free honee, and lemon juice. Because I’m lazy, I tend to just chop up my vanilla beans into inch-long pieces and add the whole pods in as well. If you’re using a lower-powered machine, you should go the more traditional route of slicing them down the center, scraping out the seeds with the side of your knife, and adding those to the mixture. Save the spend pod for another use, such as vanilla sugar.

Turn on the blender on low to start chopping up the nuts, and slowly increase the speed until you’ve reached the highest setting. Thoroughly puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister as needed, until completely silky-smooth. This could take as long as 5 – 10 minutes depending on your machine, so be patient. Pour the resulting filling over your prepared crust, tapping it gently on the counter to knock out any air bubbles. Smooth over the top with your spatula before returning the whole assemblage to the fridge. Chill thoroughly, for at least 3 hours before serving, for the cheesecake to fully set to a slicable consistency.

If desired, cut in half, core, and thinly slice a green apple and toss with lemon juice to prevent browning. Arrange the slices artfully across the top right before serving. Slice into thin wedges with a sharp, and keep chilled for the best texture and flavor.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Fry Another Day

With an ingredient as versatile as cashew milk, the avenues to explore for recipe creation are truly endless. Slip it seamlessly into any formula calling for milk, non-dairy or otherwise, and you’ll have a sure hit on your hands. Finding a vehicle to truly feature and fully honor this typically under-appreciated component, however, is a considerably more challenging task. Milkier than most treats, pudding seemed like a promising concept to start with, but quickly grew boring without additional flavors added to the mix, covering up the delicate essence of cashew and thereby missing the point entirely. It would take much more than a bowlful of plain pudding to satisfy my craving for adventure, but perhaps I was going about the dessert all wrong to begin with. The idea had been sitting right under my nose the whole time, hidden amongst old notes about inspiring desserts yet to grace my kitchen. Leche Frita, or “fried milk,” is essentially very firm cubes of pudding that are pan-fried to a crispy finish. Who knew how drastically the whole package could change with that final kiss of heat?

My rudimentary knowledge of Spanish from the 3rd grade doing me no favors, I took a brief interlude to look up the word “cashew” and that was all I needed to know. Anacardo Leche Frita it was!

Lightly sprinkled with a touch of cinnamon, the crisp exterior gives way to an impossibly soft, creamy center, packed with more vanilla bean flecks than you could count. Decadent in taste but stunningly simple in composition, it’s one of those rare desserts that is greater than the sum of its parts. If you have cashew milk, I’m willing to bet that you already have everything else you need to make this recipe right now. Forget about fussy preparations; it’s little more than a cooked custard allowed to set, and can be prepared well in advance right up to the frying stage. Eaten hot off the stove, still slightly chilled at the very core, the contrast in textures and temperatures turns humble cashew milk into an extraordinary treat.

Anacardo Leche Frita

1/2 Cup Cornstarch
2 3/4 Cups So Delicious Cashew Milk
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

To Finish:

1/4 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
Additional Cinnamon, Optional

In a medium-sized saucepan, vigorously whisk together the cornstarch, cashew milk, and agave, beating out any lumps of starch before setting the pan over the stove. Once smooth and homogenous, turn on the heat to medium, and stir periodically as the liquid cooks. Meanwhile, lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish and set aside. Bring to a full boil, mix in the vanilla, and cook for just 30 longer, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan as you stir to prevent anything from sticking and burning, and being careful not to let the mixture boil over the sides. The pudding should have significantly thickened by this point. Turn off the heat, pour the hot pudding into your prepared baking dish, and smooth out the top with your spatula. Let cool to room temperature before transferring the pan to your fridge to thoroughly chill; at least 4 hours.

When the pudding is cold and firm, turn it out onto a cutting board and gently slice it into squares or triangles with a very sharp knife. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger, and gently toss one piece of the chilled pudding in at a time, making sure that all sides are completely covered.

Heat 3 – 4 tablespoons of the oil in a medium saute pan with high sides over medium heat. Once it begins to shimmer, gently lay the pieces of floured pudding in, leaving plenty of space around them for easier access. Cook for 3 – 6 minutes on each side, flipping when golden brown. Move the finished leche frita over to a paper towel-lined plate to drain off the excess oil, and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon just before serving. Repeat with the remaining pudding squares or triangles, adding more oil to the pan as needed, until all pieces are cooked to a crispy perfection.

Makes 10 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe


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True Blue Summer

As the summer growing period reaches a crescendo, the sheer abundance is enough to make me giddy, tearing through mile-high stacks of tomatoes with abandon. Fresh produce flooding markets near and far, a riot of colors and shapes adorn farm stand shelves as far as the eye can see, and everything looks good enough to eat. It feels silly to crave more in light of such abundance, yet I can’t help but yearn for the local specialties so precious and so fragile that they never see mainstream distribution. Though less exotic than some prime picks, the Frozen Wild Blueberries from Maine are the first things that come to mind. It’s harvest time up north, and the good news is that everyone, not just New Englanders, can enjoy those tiny blue jewels because much of the crop is flash frozen within 24 hours of picking, locking in both taste and nutrients at the peak of perfection.

Uncompromising standards of production mean that Frozen Wild Blueberries are some of the rare treats available all year long in any grocery store’s freezer case. Don’t let that luxury lure you into a false sense of complacency, though- Now is the time to act! Make the most of prime seasonal pairings to bring out the best flavors nature can create. Perhaps not the most obvious couple in the culinary spectrum, blueberries and corn are truly a match made in summertime heaven. Starting with ingredients so perfect to begin with, it doesn’t take much to draw out their best qualities in any recipe. Especially when it comes to Frozen Wild Blueberries, there’s no gamble as far as quality is concerned; every bag contains the same sweetness and complexity as you would get right off the bush, no matter where or when you eat them.

Built upon a tender crumb containing both blue cornmeal and whole, roasted corn kernels pureed to a silky-smooth consistency, this cake isn’t any old cornbread with frosting. Softer, sweeter, and infinitely more luscious, even the most hesitant taste testers were won over after a single bite. Truth be told, I only managed to sneak in a few forkfuls myself, fighting for a taste before the entire assembly was devoured before my very eyes. Frozen Wild Blueberries really pack in the flavor in both the jammy compote filling and creamy frosting, managing an intensity that larger, watery berries could only dream of.

There has never been a better time to indulge than right now. Whether it’s the cake that all the neighbors will buzz about for the Labor Day block party, or just a treat that brightened up the back-to-school blues, I can think of no greater grand finale to celebrate the end of summer.

Summer Blues Layer Cake

Blue Corn Cake:

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Blue Cornmeal
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Roasted or Grilled Sweet Corn Kernels (From About 2 Ears)
3/4 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Olive Oil

Wild Blueberry Compote Filling:

10 Ounces (About 2 Cups) Frozen Wild Blueberries
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch

Cooked Wild Blueberry Frosting:

5 Ounces (About 1 Cup) Frozen Wild Blueberries
About 1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and pepper. Whisk lightly to aerate and combine.

Pull out your blender or food processor and place the shucked corn kernels in the canister, along with the coconut milk. Blend on high speed, pausing to scrape down the sides as needed, until the corn is completely pureed and perfectly smooth. Add in the non-dairy milk, vinegar, and oil, and pulse to combine.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, mixing with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together. It’s fine to leave a few lumps, as long as there are no big pockets of flour remaining. Divide the resulting batter equally between your prepared cake pans, smoothing out the tops with your spatula before sliding them onto the middle rack in your oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the centers cake comes out clean.

Cool completely before assembling the cake.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by combining the Frozen Wild Blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in small saucepan over medium heat. Allow the Frozen Wild Blueberries to thaw and become juicy, bringing the liquid to boil and stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil steadily until the berries have burst and the mixture is thickened, stirring occasionally and mashing berries roughly with fork, for about 8 – 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, and chill thoroughly before using; at least 30 minutes.

For the frosting, toss the Frozen Wild Blueberries into your blender or food processor and thoroughly puree. Pass the smooth puree through a fine mesh strainer to catch any remaining pieces, pressing hard to extract all of the liquid, and discard the solids. Measure the resulting seedless puree and add enough non-dairy milk to equal 1 cup total. Place the mixture in a medium sauce pan, along with the cornstarch and salt. Whisk vigorously to dissipate any lumps of starch before turning on the heat to medium. Continue whisking gently until the mixture thickens and large bubbles begin to break on the surface. This won’t take very long since it’s a small amount of liquid, so don’t walk away! It takes mere seconds for it to scorch miserably on the bottom. Let cool to room temperature, and then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Move the whole pot into your fridge to chill thoroughly- This should take about 1 – 2 hours.

Once the thickened blueberry mixture is completely chilled, place the margarine and sugar (yes, granulated! Do not try using confectioner’s here) in the bowl of your stand mixer, and cream together until homogenous. Don’t rush this step, as thorough creaming ensures that the sugar granules actually dissolve into the frosting; Allow a solid 3 – 5 minutes here, depending on how cold the margarine is. Finally, add the cooled blueberry mix into the bowl, along with the lemon zest and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, and whip on high speed until the frosting is smooth, creamy, and fluffy. Again, patience is key, so give it time and you will be rewarded!

To assemble, level off the tops of your cake layers by slicing off any domed humps with a serrated knife. Once flat, place one layer on your serving plate or pedestal of choice. Evenly smooth the cooked blueberry compote all over, leaving about 1 cm of cake uncovered around the borders. When you place the next layer on top, it will likely push some of the jammy filling outwards, so you want to prevent it from running over the sides. After the second layer is secured in place, apply your frosting liberally to the top, smearing it outwards and down the sides. Pipe decorative borders and garnish with additional blueberries, if desired.

Makes 14 – 20 Servings

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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Lost and Found

Organization doesn’t come naturally or easily to me. Growing up, my favorite filing system was to stash nearly everything in my designated “junk drawer.” Cramming everything from silly putty, scribbles on torn half-sheets of paper, old holiday decorations, underwear, and beyond occupied that small space; a veritable stew of everyday detritus. Delving into the depths of the junk drawer was a journey into uncharted territory. Each exploration through that wild mishmash was a genuine treasure hunt, yielding long-forgotten favorite toys or memories of happy occasions. The junk drawer was my earliest attempt to save everything near and dear to me, which ironically resulted in many more of those items getting lost.

You’d think I would learn from such a noteworthy mistake, and yet the junk drawer lives on, only in a digital format. Computers and memory disks and burned CD’s all have a random sampling of of past works, essays from high school mixed freely with more recent recipes and photos. Though the situation has improved greatly over the years, I still find myself sorting out the mess, sometimes stumbling upon a gem worth polishing back to its original luster.

Such is the case with these Oatmeal Cream Cupcakes. Originally shared merely as a photo in a review post, it was a killer recipe that was meant for prime time, not just late fringe. Shockingly little was said about the sweets themselves, which is a real shame considering what a hit they were, despite the failings of the original frosting. Inspired by oatmeal cream pies, a classic childhood treat that I never actually had. Compact, portable, and boasting comforting, simple flavors, it’s easy to understand their appeal even without firsthand experience. Soft, chewy oatmeal cookies can do no wrong, and with a smidgen of creamy frosting uniting two in harmony, such a fool-proof formula elicits a feeling of nostalgia even for this outsider.

Rather than going through the fuss of scooping, rolling, and patting out cookies, it just sounded easier to convert that concept into cupcakes. Having the opportunity to hone the original recipe further to better suit my evolving tastes, perhaps becoming lost in the virtual junk drawer wasn’t such a terrible misfortune to befall this file. Now, if only I could find the others missing in action…

Oatmeal Cream Cupcakes

1 1/2 Cups Old Fashioned Rolled Oats, pulsed in food processor
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Optional Add Ins: For a less literal but more exciting approach to the original creme pie, consider adding up to 1 cup total of toasted, chopped walnuts, chocolate chips, and/or raisins.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 8-Ounces Package Vegan Cream Cheese
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 12 standard muffin tins with cupcake papers.

Pull out your food processor and toss in the rolled oats. Briefly pulse to break them down, keeping the flakes fairly coarse, much like instant oatmeal. Transfer to a large bowl and add in the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon and ginger, whisking thoroughly to combine.

In a separate bowl, mix together the oil, melted margarine, both sugars, non-dairy milk, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula until just combined. A few remaining lumps are fine, as long as there are no large pockets of dry goods.

Divide the batter evenly between your prepared tins, filling them each about 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 18 – 22 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centers of the cakes pulls out cleanly. Cool completely before applying frosting.

Make the frosting by simply beating together the “cream cheese” and margarine in the bowl of your stand mixer until smooth, adding in the sugar and vanilla, and then whipping on high speed for a minute or two, until homogenous, light, and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically to make sure that everything is fully incorporated. Pipe or spread to your heart’s content.

Makes 12 Cupcakes

Printable Recipe


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Do You Believe In Magic?

Imagining them as the product of sorcery or witchcraft does a disservice to the whole concept of magic bars. Rather, the creation of such enchanting treats ought to be considered as kitchen alchemy, no less miraculous than an otherworldly spell.

How else could one explain the process of turning what appear to be discordant ingredients into this classic layered assembly of cookies, chocolate, nuts, and coconut? Especially when the process demands little more effort than what’s required to switch on the oven, it strikes me as a particularly bewitching sort of everyday magic. Of course, the original cast of characters is fairly mundane, in need of a new rising star and fresh script. Inspired by the play on words, black magic lured me over to the dark side for this delicious twist.

Blackberry puree, spiked with a touch of lime and vanilla, cloaks my supernatural sweets in fresh, seasonal berry flavor. Supported by a dark, devious crust of chocolate cookies rather than the standard graham crackers, the bars take on a high-contrast color scheme to better match their title, not to mention add a bolder bite.

Treading that fine line between crumbly, crunchy, and even a bit chewy, the toothsome texture is only one of many reasons why this classic concept took hold so many years ago. What’s even more incredible is how little effort goes into whipping up a batch. From fridge to table in under and hour, they may truly seem like the product of some black magic.

Black Magic Cookie Bars

1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Finely Ground Chocolate Cookie Crumbs
1 Cup (5 Ounces) Fresh Blackberries
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1 1/2 Teaspoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Lime Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2/3 Cup Unsweetened, Shredded Coconut
1/2 Cup Chopped Raw Walnuts or Pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together the chocolate cookie crumbs and melted margarine or coconut oil so that the whole mixture is nicely moistened. Transfer to your prepared baking pan and use the flat bottom of a measuring cup or drinking glass to firmly press the crumbs down in an even layer. Place in the fridge to chill while you prepare the remaining layers.

Place the blackberries and lime juice in your blender or food processor, and thoroughly puree, until the berries are are smooth as your machine can manage. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing down hard on the pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the seeds.

Mix the resulting seedless blackberry puree, sugar, cornstarch, arrowroot, lime zest, vanilla and salt together, and pour over your chilled crust. Evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts over the top, gently pressing all the goodies in to ensure that they stick.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the berries mixture bubbles up slightly around the sides and the coconut on top appears to have toasted to a golden brown hue. Cool completely before cutting into bars or squares. Store covered at room temperature for up to four days.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

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Save Strummer!

The news landed in my inbox like a bombshell detonating upon impact. Cancer, that most insidious yet omnipresent disease, had struck again, wrapping its sickly fingers around yet another loved one. It’s one of the realities that I fear most, in my heart of hearts, so deeply that even saying the word feels like a punch in the face. I have experienced its destructive wake firsthand, losing someone so kind and compassionate that it seemed like the most perverse twist of fate. Let’s be honest, it still does, and it still stings bitterly. It still reams me out every time I think about it.

Hearing that this horrendous illness has touched another loved one, no rhyme or reason to its cruel selection, is difficult to process. Especially when that person is actually a dog; the smallest dog I’ve ever known or loved. Strummer, the endlessly loving pup cared for by Melisser, has the uncanny ability to connect with everyone she meets. It’s impossible to understand how such a terrible hand could be dealt to this gentle soul.

But cancer is not a death sentence, and I’ll be damned if the whole world isn’t fighting alongside this tiny pup. Small but mighty, she has the heart of a lion, handling treatment with grace thus far. To help pay for medical bills, Melisser has put out a call for assistance, offering up prizes as a thank you for contributing, although I get the sense that the prizes aren’t even a consideration for most donations. Stunningly, the goal of $3,000 was clobbered within 48 hours of opening up the fundraiser, and still the love and support continues to pour in. Any additional funds will be sent to an animal sanctuary, so there’s still a reason for kicking in a few dollars if you can.

Up for offer as one of the raffle prizes will be my Green Goodies. Wholesome dog treats for sharing with your own beloved pup, they’re made with power-packed spinach and green pea flour, among other more humble superfood ingredients.

We’re all rooting for you, Strummer! For those who can’t donate or don’t win these treats, the recipe is as follows. It’s worth the investment in time to share with the pup you love.

Green Goodies (Dog Biscuits)

1/2 Cup Fresh Spinach, Packed
1/3 – 1/2 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/4 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter or Tahini
2 3/4 Cups Green Pea Flour
2 Tablespoons Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
1 Tablespoon Dried Parsley

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Place the spinach and 1/3 cup of water in your blender. Blend on high until thoroughly pureed and as smooth as possible. Add in the applesauce, peanut butter or tahini, and pulse to incorporate.

In a separate bowl, mix together the green pea flour, ground flaxseeds, and parsley. Once all the dry goods are well distributed, pour the wet mixture into the bowl. Use a wide spatula to combine, and switch to mixing with your hands when the dough becomes too thick to stir. The resulting dough should be very stiff, but if you can’t fully incorporate all the dry ingredients, add the remaining water while stirring, one tablespoon at a time.

Sprinkle a generous coating of pea flour over a clean surface and pat out the dough to about 1/2 inch in thickness. Use small cookie cutters (approximately 1 inch wide in any shape you desire) to cut out the biscuits. If the dough is too sticky to manage, dip the cookie cutters in pea flour first, and then reshape the biscuits after removing. Transfer the shapes on your prepared baking sheet, placing them close together as the treats will not spread or rise. Repeat until all the dough has been cut into treats.

Bake for 28 – 32 minutes, until golden brown and dry to the touch. Let cool completely before storing in an air-tight container or sharing with your furry friend.

Makes 3 – 4 Dozen Small Biscuits

Printable Recipe


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Shell Game

Maybe it’s the heat, or maybe it’s the sun. Maybe it’s just the general summer attitude that’s disrupted the typical work routine, but focused, inspired opportunities to write have been far and few between. Grasping desperately for words that are sufficient at best and cramming them into confused, awkward prose, the irony of speaking at BlogHer PathFinder Day about becoming a published author is not lost on me. When there’s so much to share, from photos to recipes to review and beyond, but no words to tie them all together into one neat, professional package, what’s a blogger to do?

Surely you can relate. You might not be a blogger or a writer at all, but this frustrating state is universally understood across all disciplines, even amongst those terrifically passionate in their chosen field. An abundance of material sits unexplored, despite best intentions. Not even carefully laid plans could create a concise schedule when the words simply won’t flow.

These “lazy days” of summer have never been busier or more fulfilling. Projects are never-ending, and for a workaholic like myself, it’s a dream come true. All I can do is keep going, relishing every moment, and trusting that the words will come sooner or later. That’s why it would be silly to keep waiting for the perfect story to sum up this latest recipe, withholding something so delicious until its forgotten at the bottom of my archives. That analogy is rather fitting, however, since these vegan scallops became buried underneath bags of frozen vegetables and pints of ice cream, far into the depths of the freezer, all for lack of that “perfect” preparation. Instead of fearing that I couldn’t do these rare savory morsels justice, it was high time to just make what sounded best in that moment. And you know what? It was a decision that turned out pretty close to perfection after all.

Spurred on by my mother’s memories of Coquilles St. Jacques, my interpretation came out naturally lighter, brighter, and tastier, in my entirely biased opinion. Still plenty rich, a buttery base of mushrooms and shallot lend depth to the seafood-free scallop, elevating it beyond the standard cream sauce approach. A tangy splash of lemon and and subtly herbaceous parsley round out the flavor profile, ensuring that the last bite is every bit as irresistible as the first. There’s no shame in licking your plate here, especially if it’s a ceramic scallop shell. That could easily be chalked up to enjoying an “authentic” scallop experience.

Coquilles St. Jacques, Re-Imagined and Revitalized

2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Divided
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Package Sophie’s Kitchen Lightly Breaded Vegan Scallops
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Large Shallot, Minced
8 Ounces Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Minced
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Dry White Wine
1 Teaspoon All Purpose Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, Finely Minced
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

Heat 1 tablespoon each of the margarine and oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Once the margarine has melted, carefully place the scallops in a single layer on the pan. Don’t try to move or flip them for at least 6 – 8 minutes, to achieve a better sear. If they still appear to be sticking and look pale on the bottoms, let them continue to cook, undisturbed for up to 5 additional minutes. When the undersides are nicely browned, give them a single flip over to the opposite side, drizzle with lemon juice, and saute until similarly golden. Transfer the scallops to a plate and set aside.

Return the empty pan to the heat and add in the remaining margarine and oil. Gently saute the shallot for 2 – 3 minutes, until translucent and aromatic, before stirring in the mushrooms. Cook over medium-low heat until tender; about 5 minutes. Stir together the almond milk, wine, and flour, beating out any potential clumps, and pour the mixture into the pan. Simmer gently for 10 – 12 minutes, until thickened and creamy. Stir in the tarragon and parsley, and finally season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon a small mound of the mushroom mixture onto each serving dish and top with 3 – 4 scallops each. Serve right away while still hot.

Makes 4 Appetizer-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe


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Through Rose-Tinted Glasses

It was born from a backup plan; a plan B that was never needed. Planning for a photo shoot means preparing for the worst, and in this case, the “worst” translated to a late shipment of candied rose petals. Though only a small element of a demanding, detailed set, it was no small source of stress for the perfectionist in me. Destined for the cover of an ebook, the weight of its prominent placement and supreme visibility raised the stakes to dizzying heights. With all the hero dishes and supporting characters prepped to go, there was no stopping this shoot from barreling forward as planning, with or without those tiny crystalline flowers. Facing intense pressure not only to get it right, but to nail it on the first take, nothing else motives quite like the fear of failure. What else could have explained my mad dash to find unsprayed, organic roses at such a late hour, to paint them gingerly, one by one, with extra-fine granulated sugar? That dedication, bordering on obsession, has come to define my days of back-to-back photo shoots.

Of course, as luck would have it, the plan A roses arrived at the very last moment, just in time for their closeup. Crisis averted, the shoot went off without a hitch, leaving behind a wealth of sugared pink petals in its wake.

Incorporating my other ingredient excesses- namely, fresh strawberries as sweet as jam and the ever-present chocolate sandwich cookies that seem to have taken up permanent residence in my cupboard- that additional effort definitely didn’t go to waste. Fruity and floral, the resulting strawberry and rose tartlettes are personal portions of show-stopping desserts. Layered with a crimson strawberry curd at the bottom and a rich rose-scented pastry cream on top, each bite is accented by a crunchy chocolate crust containing the harmonious duo. Delicate, fragrant candied rose petals are truly the icing on the cake, or tartlette, as it were. Though technically an optional garnish, I wouldn’t dream if making these blushing beauties without them. They provided m initial inspiration, after all.

Strawberry and Rose Tartlettes

Chocolate Crust:

1 1/2 Cups Vegan Chocolate Cookie Crumbs (15 Chocolate Sandwich Cookies)
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

Strawberry Curd:

2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Agar Powder
1 1/4 Cups Seedless Strawberry Puree*
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice

Rose Cream:

1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Raw Cashews
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Arrowroot Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Agar Powder
Pinch Salt
1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Rosewater

To Finish:

Candied Rose Petals (Optional)

*To make strawberry puree, start with about 1 1/2 pounds of fresh strawberries and thoroughly puree them in your blender or food processor, until completely smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, discard the seeds, and measure out the amount called for in the recipe before proceeding.

Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees and placing four 4-inch springform pans on a baking sheet. Once finely ground, combine the cookie crumbs with the melted margarine in a large bowl, and stir well until there are no dry patches. Divide the mixture evenly between your ready and waiting tins, using lightly moistened fingers to press it evenly across the bottoms and up the sides. Bake for 8 minutes, turn off the oven, and set aside to let cool.

Meanwhile, to make the strawberry curd filling, whisk together the sugar and agar powder to combine. Place the two into a medium saucepan along with the strawberry puree and lemon juice, turning on the stove to medium heat. Whisk to break up any lumps of sugar, and continue whisking occasionally as it comes up to temperature. Once the mixture reaches a boil, turn off the stove and transfer the hot, liquid curd your baked tartlette shells. Fill each one halfway to the top with the mixture. Don’t worry that if it seems very loose and watery at this point; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Allow the curd to come down to room temperature before refrigerating the half-filled tartlettes. This step is very important, because tossing it in the fridge too early will weaken the gel, and you will end up with a runny filling.

Finally, for the pastry cream, toss the non-dairy milk, cashews, sugar, arrowroot, agar, and salt into your blender and let it rip. Blitz until completely silky-smooth, pausing periodically to scrape down the sides of the canister if necessary. Pour the resulting mixture into a medium saucepan over medium heat, and whisk frequently as it cooks. Be sure to continuously scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to prevent anything from sticking and burning. When bubbles begin to break on the surface, whisk in the rosewater and vanilla, and turn off the heat. Distribute the pastry cream evenly over the tartlettes, filling them all the way to the top. Smooth out the surface and let cool to room temperature before chilling in the fridge for at least 3 hours before serving. Top with candied rose petals at the last moment to prevent them from getting soft, if desired.

Makes 4 Tartlettes

Printable Recipe


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Stock Up on Strawberries

Nothing serves as better inspiration for new recipes than abundance, or if I’m the one grocery shopping, overabundance. With extra ingredients on hand, it’s easier to experiment a bit beyond your comfort zone, while still getting your fill of the classic preparations. Always wanted to try something new, but find the standby recipes irresistible? Well, you have no more excuses when piles of fresh produce are staring you down, demanding attention before they take over the kitchen. This is precisely the situation I’m expecting with strawberries as the star, because Whole Foods Markets across the country are gearing up for a blowout one-day sale tomorrow, Friday the 19th, on organic strawberries. At only $1.99 per pound, down from their regular price of $4.99, you would have to be crazy to walk out of that store without at least two or three punnets, minimum. I know I’ll be stocking up!

Maybe I’ll see you there, because at the Fairfield, CT location from noon to 2:00, I’ll be demonstrating one of my favorite pie recipes, a Roasted Strawberry Tomato Galette, along with some pie tips and tricks to help you make the most of your berries. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, Whole Foods Market has very generously offered to include a voucher for 1 free pound of strawberries with the purchase of one of my books, or the pre-order of Easy as Vegan Pie. This offer is valid only at the Fairfield store, but if you’re in the area, that’s all the more reason to make a special trip and stop by.

Incredibly, that’s not the end of the exciting news. To celebrate berry season, and not just strawberries, Whole Foods Market is providing a $75 gift card for one lucky reader to go on a bonafide berry shopping spree. Just imagine- If it weren’t for volume limitations, that could cover enough strawberries to fill a small swimming pool! Since that’s more than any one person, or even a small army could consume, I’m dying to know what you would do with the cash if you won. To enter, tell me what you plan to buy with the gift card, and what recipes you’d like to make from the windfall. Simply enter your name and a valid email address in the appropriate boxes before midnight (EST) on July 25th. You must be a resident of the US to enter.

The almighty random number generator has spoken, and chosen commenter #3 as the winner of the $75 Whole Foods gift card!

That means gaiantlc, congratulations: You’re the lucky shopper about to be that much richer in bulk beans, grains, and nooch!

This is the perfect opportunity to use vast quantities of strawberries and create a stunning summer pie, which is why I know I won’t be able to stop rolling out the dough when I get home. My Strawberry-Kiwi Pie from Vegan Desserts has been a rare treat throughout the years, only emerging periodically, as the strawberries tend to be quite a splurge. Finally, I don’t need an excuse to indulge!

Though currently out of print, Vegan Desserts is being refreshed in paperback format as we speak, due for a triumphant return to bookstores this coming November. Since I would hate to leave you hanging without a copy, at the height of this strawberry sale, consider this pie a small taste of what’s to come.

Strawberry-Kiwi Pie
From Vegan Desserts

Crust:

2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Margarine, Chilled
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
4 to 6 Tablespoons Ice-Cold water

Strawberry-Kiwi Filling:

3 Medium Kiwis
2 Cups Fresh Strawberries, Sliced
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Tapioca Flour
Pinch Salt

The crust for this pie is made like an traditional pie crust; Start by combining the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the margarine into small cubes and add it into the dry mix, tossing to coat. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut the margarine into the flour until you achieve a dry, crumbly mixture with lumps about the size of pebbles or peas. You can also pulse all of these ingredients in your food processor to speed the process along, if desired. Pour in the vinegar, and add the water one tablespoon at a time, continuing to mix or pulse until it just comes together into a cohesive ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for about 30 minutes before working with it further.

Divide the dough into two pieces, returning half to the fridge for the time being and placing the other half onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle additional flour over the top to prevent it from sticking, and roll it out to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, making it into a round shape at least 10 – 11 inches in diameter. Carefully fold it into quarters, without pressing down, and quickly move it into a lightly grease pin tin. Place the point of the folded dough in the center, and very gently unfold the sides so that it fills the pan, using your fingers to press it in evenly. Cut the excess dough away from the sides and add it into the second half sitting in the fridge. Place the whole pan in the fridge as well.

Now you’re ready to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

The filling is very easy to make and comes together quickly. In a large bowl, combine the kiwis, sliced strawberries, and lemon zest. Sprinkle on the sugar, tapioca flour, and salt over the top and toss to combine, thoroughly coating the fruit. Move all of the fruit filling into your prepared crust and set aside.

Take the remaining dough out and roll it out to the same thickness, cutting it into 1/2 inch wide strips. Arrange it in a lattice design over the top of the pie and crimp it by pinching it to the edges. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 – 55 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling away. Let cool completely before slicing or else the juices will run out.

Serves 8 – 10

*To easily peel kiwi fruits, cut off both ends with a paring knife and starting from one of the cut sides, insert a spoon just under the skin and twist the kiwi so that the spoon goes all the way around the circumference of the fruit. Repeat the process on the other end, and the “meat” of the fruit will simply pop out.

Printable Recipe

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