BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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A Novel Approach

If there’s anything better than ice cream, it could only be ice cream on a stick or in a sandwich. Classic novelties have taken advantage of this fool-proof path to frozen dessert perfection, but few truly make the most of the unique, single serving presentation. Finally daring to innovate beyond two chocolate wafers filled with vanilla ice cream, some very exciting developments are turning the marketplace into a very sweet scene, indeed.

So Delicious has certainly been busy in recent days, and my backlog of photos provides ample evidence. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their latest innovations I have on deck for review! Truth be told, the above coconut-based Mini Organic Bars were first devoured back in January, while I enjoyed my time in Hawaii, and the hottest winter I’ve ever experienced. The perfect foil to a sweltering afternoon in the sun, it was hard to pick a favorite between the Just Java, Simply Strawberry, and Fudge Bars, but I quickly found that I really am a coffee-lover through and through. It won’t pummel you with high-octane espresso flavor, but a creamy, sweet, and smooth cappuccino flavor that’s perfectly suited for a light midday snack. For you coconut-haters out there, never fear: I couldn’t detect even a hint of coconut flavor in these babies, unlike the other two options.

Tofutti has been in the dairy-free dessert game for decades now, the veteran in the rapidly shifting field of prepared vegan food stuffs. The masterminds behind these particular treats definitely know what they’re doing, using the same formula that’s survived countless food trends and collective dietary changes. Although best known for their pints, Tofutti Cuties in all their myriad flavors will always hold a special place in my heart. Way back when BitterSweet was but a wee speck on the interweb, those sweet ice cream sandwiches were some of the very first products I ever reviewed. If you unwittingly clicked to read that flashback, I must apologize: Your eyes are likely burning by now from those gruesome photos.

Back to the matter at hand, the varieties have come and gone over the years, and remaining flavors can prove rather elusive. Although I can find their take on the golden standard anywhere I shop, more fanciful concoctions are harder to come by. Case in point, I could only get my hands on the Key Lime and Wild Berry Tofutti Cuties when the kind PR people offered to ship them directly. Granted, this was [shamefully, regrettably] over a year ago, so I’m not even sure if they still exist in the wild. For my own sake, I sure hope they do, because both were unforgettable treats with no equals in mainstream markets. Particularly drawn the to key lime, zesty citrus ice cream provides a bright, tangy contrast to the buttery vanilla cookies. Bearing a satisfying soft bite that is easy to sink your teeth into, the refreshing combination is far more complex than your average child-focused novelty. A new personal favorite from this steady, old school brand.

In case you thought that ice cream was just a summertime treat, then I’d like to introduce you to the most creative, daring frozen desserts to be found in the freezer cases this year: Halloween themed, coconut-based Pumpkin Spice and Candy Corn novelties, made by none other than So Delicious. These are brilliant for their adorable shapes alone, but needless to say it’s the taste is what puts them over the top. The adorable pale orange pumpkins are unsurprisingly flavored exactly like their Pumpkin Spice Beverage, only frozen, of course. Rich and decadent, they definitely feel like a seasonal indulgence, despite the low caloric price tag.

Candy corn was the real wild card here: Would it truly taste like candy corn? The chocolate crown suggested otherwise, but I held out hope for something more reminiscent of Indian corn instead of the classic. (Those were always better, anyway.) For better or for worse, depending on your stance toward the much reviled or beloved confections, these frozen novelties do not taste like actual candy corn. The white stripe is a simple, straightforward vanilla ice cream, but things get considerably more interesting towards the orange base. Immediately familiar yet indescribable, I couldn’t quite pin down what I was tasting… And then it hit me. Orange creamsicle! This was the creamy orange ice cream, long since discontinued, that I devoured without restraint during my early college days. Stuffing myself with both the scoops and pops, having that cool, sweet treat to look forward to after classes was the highlight of my day. Oh, the joy of being reunited, if only for a few fleeting stripes!

It’s never been easier to stay cool, even without scooping a single spoonful. Considering the rapidly expanding field of delicious options to choose from, there’s easily something for everyone to enjoy, no dairy need apply.


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City of Sandwiches

World-renowned for its legendary sourdough, San Francisco is indisputably a city built upon bread. Even in times of carb ambivalence and widespread gluten awareness, it’s reassuring to see that this yeasted tradition is still alive and well, thriving in the hands of myriad skilled, dedicated bakers found across the bay area. With so many loaves both big and small being born every day in those perpetually burning ovens, it should come as no surprise that sandwiches get receive considerable attention here, no matter the cuisine nor restaurant ranking. Far be it from the only choice, sourdough is hardly the end-all, be-all bun that serves as the foundation for those hundreds, if not thousands, of creatively stuffed handheld meals. One could easily eat only sandwiches and still never exhaust all of the options, from buns to condiments, as diverse an distinctive as the sandwich artisans themselves.

There’s no shortage of choices when it comes to finding authentic banh mi, stuffed with everything from from tofu to TVP if you know where to look. Little more than a hole in the wall with space for a miniature kitchen, Fresh Brew Coffee nonetheless manages to craft a mean stack of tangy pickles, hot peppers, cilantro, avocado, and veggie patties inside a crusty French roll. It’s not the most revolutionary rendition, but location counts for a whole lot. Since it was within stumbling distance of my classes and offered free wifi, it was an easy, tasty stop for lunch. For convenience, speed, and cost, the combination simply can’t be beat.

A bit far-flung for most visitors but perfectly situated near my home base, Lou’s Cafe and Sandwiches has a fiercely loyal following. While most people come for the meats and cheeses and the printed menu doesn’t appear even remotely vegan-friendly at first blush, you can snag yourself a mighty fine meal if you know what to ask for. The Veggielicious is vegetarian by default, and easily veganized once stripped of its cheese, with jalapeno spread swapped in for the mayonnaise-based “special sauce.” Opt for the Dutch crunch bread, rather than the soft white fluff that comes standard, and you’ll have a hand-held roasted vegetable feast, complete with crisp lettuce and a full meadow’s-worth of sprouts.

Here’s one out of left field for you: Cinderella Bakery and Cafe, a traditional Russian establishment, hidden within the Inner Richmond, serving up solid eats without any pretension- Or niceties, depending on the counter person. Don’t let the surly service deter you though, because your patience will reap some incredible, edible delights.  Their so-called Vegan Sandwich takes the guess work out of what to order, arriving fully loaded with roasted red peppers, tomato, sorrel, avocado, sprouts, and romesco sauce on satisfyingly crunchy focaccia bread, toasted to a fetching shade of golden brown. Set apart from the pack by the rich, savory romesco sauce, it’s a sandwich that deserves far more fanfare than it seems to get, appearing only on the online menu and not in store. Press forward and ask for it anyway; the unsmiling staff will grudgingly oblige. However, if you only have room for one dish, make it the accidentally vegan borscht (sans sour cream.) Even on a steamy summer afternoon, the tomato-based broth, layered with a complex yet harmonious symphony of umami flavors, truly hits the spot. Since it comes with a basket of complimentary rye bread, it really is a full meal all by itself.

Something of a cult-hit, Hella Vegan Eats slings different sandwiches every day their truck is on the road, and on this particular sunny afternoon, I had the opportunity to taste their Southern Fried Thai “Chicken” Sandwich, replete with green curry cabbage, curried aioli, and a slab of faux-chicken about the size of a full dinner plate. Extending far beyond the confines of the soft yet hearty bun, there’s a whole lot of “meat” packed into this baby, and I’m happy to report that every last inch of it is fried to a perfectly crispy, grease-less consistency, remaining moist and tender inside. It’s the kind of sandwich that would appeal to even the most close-minded carnivore, deserving of all the effusive praise regularly bestowed upon the modest food truck. Plus, you’ve gotta love the whimsical umbrella garnish.

Only upon sinking my teeth into the monstrous grinder overflowing with paper-thin shaved seitan and mushrooms at Jay’s Cheesesteak did I realize my ordering folly. Made vegan by omitting the mayonnaise and yes, the cheese, I’m not sure exactly what you would call this creation. Regardless, this hot pile of chewy gluten is pure comfort food, lightened with fresh lettuce, tomato, pickle, and a subtle smear of mustard as accompaniments. If only Jay would consider adding a vegan cheese sauce to the menu, the experience would truly be complete, but it’s already pretty darned delicious as is.

Don’t forget about all of the sweet sandwiches that San Francisco has to offer, too! Curbside Creamery is not exclusively vegan, but offers a rotating variety of dairy-free ice creams. Based in Oakland with regular appearances at various east bay farmers markets, their cashew-based scoops are as creative as they are craveable. From Thai iced tea to earl grey, you can’t go wrong with a simple scoop or two, but their fully loaded ice cream sandwiches are truly something else. Go big or go home with the thickly layered Peanut Butter and Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich and you won’t regret the caloric splurge.

They may not have a storefront bakery, but it’s still pretty darned special to chance upon Feel Good Desserts‘ vegan macarons in the refrigerated cases at Republic of V. The moisture of the fridge no doubt compromised their delicate structure a bit, creating a texture that was more soft than crisp, but the overall eating experience was pure bliss. Knowing how much hard work goes into crafting these tiny sandwich cookies first hand, it was a real treat to have someone else do the heavy lifting for me.

San Franciscan vegans are positively spoiled for delicious dining options, so the real question here is: Which ‘wich would you eat first?


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Build a Better Bread

Passover week, of all times, is probably not the best time to share a few thoughts about bread, and yet I can’t stop my mind from drifting back to a few noteworthy loaves. Amid a sea of matzo, it makes perfect sense to find myself craving that yeast-risen crumb with a vengeance. Should anyone else find themselves struggling with similarly tempting thoughts, forgive me, for I am about to make that urge much harder to resist.

One Degree Organics talks a big game about sustainability, transparency, and of course, producing real food with real benefits. Unlike so many other companies where the words amount to merely talk, these principles are clearly visible in every step of the process. Their commitment to making a positive impact is admirable, but the most important contribution they make is one of good taste.

Offering a total of four varieties of bread, they each have incredible character completely unique to the unconventional grains and legumes employed. Legumes? Why yes, the Lentil Grain loaf is a prime example of just that, seamlessly blending red lentils into the soft yet sturdy slices. The resulting nutritional boost makes it incredibly satisfying, keeping me full much longer than the average bread. Better yet, the flavor is deep, complex, evocative of toasted wheat even when eaten cold. Delicious in its own right, it would be an easy way to slip lentils into the diet of a fussy eater; I would have never known if not for the label.

Utterly delicious!, the very first of my tasting notes so helpfully reads. Needless to say, the Sesame Sunflower bread made a positive impression immediately upon the initial bite. Toothsome, sprinkled with impeccably fresh sunflower seeds, nutty sesame flavor sings harmony all throughout the even crumb. A stronger yeast flavor compliments the more assertive additions. Every bite is just a little bit different, adding excitement to what might be otherwise unremarkable meals.

For those craving a more traditional wheat profile, the Ancient Whole Wheat loaf is the way to go. Bearing a subtle sweetness thanks to the invisible addition of raisins, it’s a remarkably well-balanced bread, wholesome and hearty but still soft, undeniably easy to eat. An excellent all-purpose loaf, it seems to play nicely with just about everything. The mellow wheat flavor pairs beautifully with all manner of sandwich fillings or toppings both sweet and savory.

As if it could really get any better, I saved my favorite for last. By my estimation, the Flax & Spelt would be the lovechild of hearty whole wheat and and wild seeded loaves, sharing only the best characteristics of each. A close cousin to the wheat we know today, spelt bears the same familiar flavor, but this particular yeasted permutation is dotted liberally with an abundance of flax seeds. Small but mighty, these square slices are denser than the rest, yielding a sturdy chew and springy texture all at once.

No matter which slice from One Degree Organics you choose, the only way you could go wrong is to serve it up during Passover. I know I’m counting the days, if not the hours, until the toaster can roar back to life…


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Unsung Heros (and Hoagies, Tortas, Wraps, et al.)

Do I really need recipes for putting stuff between bread? What could be more simple, more intuitive than building a sandwich? At least that’s what I thought, ever skeptical, until that fateful day when Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes‘s latest collaboration, Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day, was crammed into my undersized mailbox. It’s okay to admit if you too underestimated the power of a properly constructed sandwich, as long as you proceed with an open mind. Besides, there’s so much more to it than just grilled “cheese” and veggie burgers- Wraps, rolls, open-faced sandwiches, hot and cold options, and even desserts are included. True, a few liberties may have been taken with the sandwich concept, but I’m ruling this one a fair play because it’s all worth exploring.

Starting at the beginning meant flipping to the final chapter first, where all the breads, “meats,” and other interchangeable additions are filed away. Seeking a loaf that could set my sandwich journey off on the right foot, “The Building Blocks” of chapter 8 is precisely the spot I landed before exploring any other tempting pages. Bread is arguably the most important part of a sandwich, creating is a solid foundation to build upon, imparting complimentary flavors, and still allowing the filling to take center stage when its solo must be sung. Knowing Celine’s talent for taming the wild yeast, I would expect no less than homemade options more exciting than your standard white bread, and she did not disappoint.

After purchasing an overwhelming volume of leafy greens yet again, the Green Monster Bread (page 178) was a god-send for dispatching a good portion of my arugula. In fact, I went ahead and doubled the amount called for, with excellent results. Living up to its name, the loaf rose to incredible heights in the oven, and each slice yielded a cheerful light green, fluffy crumb. A subtle hint of garlic is what really sets it apart- Though you may not be able to pick out exactly what that faint flavor is, it’s easy to taste that there’s something extra going on in there beyond the standard flour and water, making for a very tasty mystery.

Clamoring to utilize my lovely green loaf right away, I landed on the super simple Deviled (Not) Egg Salad Sandwiches (page 57) largely out of laziness. Already stocked with the necessary ingredients, it was only a matter of mixing and mashing before I had my first fully loaded lunchtime tower. Unlike any other faux-egg recipe I’ve ever known, liquid smoke adds an additional savory element. While highly enjoyable, this made me think more of a smoked fish salad, or an entirely new culinary creation. Happily, it doesn’t matter what you call it, as it should be a hit with any crowd. Smartly smashing the chickpeas means that they retain a nice bite, but won’t roll out like a handful of marbles between bread. Even outside of its sandwich assembly, it was a very enjoyable, eggless option.

Caesar salad has long been a rare “treat” for me, consisting of crunchy croutons, rich, creamy dressing, and some token lettuce just to fill the bowl. Well, the Tempeh and Arugula Caesar Wrap (page 68) has taken that filler salad and turned it into a well-balanced and highly satisfying portable meal. Rather than greasy croutons, toasted sunflower seeds provide the crunch in this combination, with simple marinated tempeh strips adding in a much needed punch of protein. Remarkably bold, tangy dressing ties the whole tortilla-encased filling together. This recipe will undoubtedly work its way into many future meals.

Ending with something sweet was in order, and the promise of Mango Butter and Ginger Whoopie Pies (page 167) proved irresistible. Despite concentrating the mango puree into a smooth, sweet paste, ginger completely out-shined any fruity flavors. Fail to mention the mango component, and even eaters with fine-tuned palates would never guess. Sparkling brightly with gingery spice, that didn’t stop me from savoring those fluffy, cakey cookies one bit. Melt-in-your-mouth tender once fully stacked, the creme was aggressively sweet by itself, but sufficiently tempered by the cookies’ bite. Something tells me that this recipe will be worthy of a second visit, perhaps in cupcake format instead.

I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on all that Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day has to offer, but I’d like you to have the opportunity to taste test as well. Are you up to the challenge? Let me know about your current favorite sandwich in the comment section, and one randomly chosen winner will walk away with a shiny new copy of this cookbook to enjoy. You may even find a new combination that steals your sandwich-loving heart! Be sure to include your name and a valid email address in the appropriate boxes before Saturday, September 29th, at Midnight EST. This post will be updated with the winner shortly thereafter.

UPDATE: As chosen by everyone’s favorite random number generator, the winner is…

The owner of comment #39! That means the book goes to… Richa! Congrats, and check your email for further details!

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