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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Nog-Off: Speed Round Rematch!

Two years after the first fight for vegan nog supremacy went down, the landscape of dairy-free, egg-free holiday beverages has finally shifted once more. The first change is not a happy one; it seems that the Earth Balance Soy Nog has thrown in the towel, bowing out of the game altogether. This would have left a gaping hole in the lineup, but the good news is that a spry newcomer has stepped up to the plate in its wake. Going by the name of “Holiday Nog” by Califia Farms, this rookie is a definite underdog, having appeared on the scene with little fanfare and almost no web presence. It doesn’t help matters that these shapely 48-ounce bottles are Whole Foods Market exclusives, severely limiting their availability across the country.

What the Holiday Nog lacks in distribution, it makes up for in innovation. The first almond-based nog on the market, it fills a niche previously untouched, meaning that those first punches land with great impact on the largely soy-based competitors. Touting itself as a lighter choice, it goes beyond the standard comparison to traditional eggnog, and goes straight for the kill, hitting where it hurts and boasting lower sugar content than any of the other commercial options out there. True to the claims, this milky elixir pours freely, approximately the same viscosity of standard almond milk. Fine for a solo sip, but that kind of thickness really can’t support an added splash of holiday “spirit”.

Without any detectable almond flavor, it was a brash, borderline harsh and definitely manufactured nutmeg note that dominated, storming in a bit too hard and heavy to really enjoy. The rookie must have tired itself out in that first barrage, because the sweetness struck me as rather lacking, too. Some will definitely appreciate this aspect, owing to a light hand on the organic cane sugar, but quite frankly, I wanted a treat that could stand up to the promise of eggnog, and this just wasn’t doing it. Sorry, sports fans, but this kid is down for the count, leaving So Delicious as the reining champ.

For you folks keeping score at home, that brings the final ranking, from most highly to least recommended, to…

1. Coconut Nog by So Delicious

2. Silk Nog by Silk

3. Holiday Nog by Califia Farms

4. Rice Nog by Rice Dream

Don’t let me tell you what to fill your mug with, though. Host you own nog-off at home and taste the options for yourself! I’m giving away a $25 gift certificate for Whole Foods Market, furnished by the natural grocery giant itself, so that you can pick up a full complement of eggless nogs, or whatever else might bring you a bit of edible holiday cheer. All you need to do is be a resident of the US, and leave me a comment about your favorite commercial nog, homemade recipes, or what you like to make with your excess nog once the holidays are over. Make sure your name and email are both entered into the appropriate boxes so I know who to contact! The entry period will be open until Friday the 13th at Midnight EST, so start talking!

UPDATE: After consulting with my very favorite random number generator, together we determined that the winner of the gift card would be…

The owner of comment #40, otherwise known as sara!

If that wasn’t the result you were hoping for, don’t despair. You can still snap up a coupon good for 50 cents of off Califia Holiday Nog should you want to give it a try yourself. Stay tuned for more giveaways to come, too!


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Leftover Links

Another day, another delicious project! Although the blog hasn’t exactly been a hub of activity lately, the kitchen is another story. Churning out recipes and photos at every turn, fresh assignments for other outlets have kept me busy lately, but with less to share in this space of my own. Happily, many of those features are now hitting the internet, so it seemed like as good a time as any to round them up and share what I’ve been working on…

I make no secret of my strong bias towards all of Nava Atlas‘ unbeatable creations, but it’s been an absolute joy to continue our partnership beyond her forthcoming cookbook. Essentially cooking my way through the archives of VegKitchen, I’m proud to report that the Thanksgiving selections in particular are now lavishly illustrated, with photos that will hopefully inspire and entice in equal parts. From main courses to sides to sweets and beyond, there’s everything you could need to prepare for the festive meal, and I can vouch for the flavor of each and every one of them.

In case that’s not enough dessert for you, I also shared a super-simple No-Bake Apple Ice Cream Pie over on Go Dairy Free. Use a few store-bought shortcuts and whip this beauty up in mere minutes, or go all the way with homemade components; you can’t lose with either approach, and the results are guaranteed to impress.

Hitting newsstands and mailboxes shortly, you’ll find these Caramel Apple Crisp Cupcakes stashed within the pages of the November/December issue of VegNews Magazine. Lavished with ribbons of salted caramel sauce and a crown of caramel frosting, the tender, lightly spiced apples within never had it so good. Who said the cupcake trend was over?

I’m delighted to announce that Vegan Desserts is finally available for purchase again, now in its second printing and paperback format! In case you missed out on the first round, you now have a chance to enjoy all the same tried-and-true recipes, but now with fewer errors and two additional photos that were originally omitted. Not to mention, an even further reduced price over the hardcover version.

Finally, for any local readers, I want to point your attention to the Small Business Saturday event at the Fairfield University Bookstore on November 30th, where eight local authors will share their favorite books- Myself included! Get your cookbooks signed to give as gifts, if you can bear to part with them, and taste some samples of the recipes within. Hope to see you there!


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Stick With It!

Less than a week’s time separates today from the Great National Food Coma, otherwise known as Thanksgiving. More hotly anticipated than any splashy movie premier, most plans for this year’s grand event have long since been laid, solidified, and are now gradually shifting into gear. Menus are set, tasks have been doled out to eager participants, and non-perishables have been procured; no detail, neither big nor small, shall be left unattended.  Only the actual cooking remains for the particularly well organized and industrious few. Knowing just how much work goes into such a grand production, I wouldn’t dream of waltzing in here and suggesting that you turn your carefully crafted game plan completely upside-down with crazy new dishes, not yet passed the test of time. You’ve already got the raw components for the typical fixings, right? I’m merely imploring you to consider them from a new perspective.

All the classic accoutrements threaded neatly onto portion-controlled, hand-held, and highly dippable little packages, Thanksgiving kebabs are the answer to menu malaise. Stick with tradition, keep the Brussels sprouts and “turkey,” but present them in a whole new light. Consider this concept with an open mind for the greatest degree of success, since all the ingredients can be effortlessly swapped with your own holiday favorites, or tweaked to achieve ideal proportions and flavors. Consider adding cubes of sourdough or sturdy cornbread to evoke stuffing; pumpkin or sweet potato could be excellent understudies for butternut; trimmed green beans can comfortably slip into any empty spaces; these kebabs are limited only by a lack of imagination.

Small skewers could be fun teasers for guest to enjoy while awaiting the full spread, but more generous cuts fit perfect on the dinner plate for the main event, too. Send out a heaping platter of kebabs nestled cozily atop a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, gravy for dipping on the side, and you could be on the cusp of a whole new annual tradition, with all the familiar flavors comfortably intact.

Thanksgiving Kebabs

Amounts will vary depending on how many people you plan to serve and which vegetables/add-ins you choose, but the concept remains the same. What follows is largely a reflection of what is pictured above, but the formula is entirely open to interpretation.

Seitan, Tempeh, or Vegan “Turkey,” Cubed
Peeled, Gutted, and Cubed Butternut Squash
Small Brussels Sprouts, Cleaned and Trimmed
Large Fresh Cranberries*

Marinade:

2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Tamari
2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
Pinch Rubbed Sage

To Serve:

Mashed Potatoes (Optional)
Gravy, for Dipping (NOT Optional!)

*When selecting cranberries, be sure to use particularly large berries and skewer them precisely in the center, as they have a tendency to wither and/or split while baking.

Before you start prepping vegetables or turning on the heat, submerge your wooden skewers for at least 20 minutes to prevent them from burning (or worse, catching fire) while in the oven. If using metal skewers, go ahead and skip this precaution.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a shallow baking dish that can accommodate the full length of your skewers.

Thread individual vegetables and “meat” on the skewers in any pattern or proportion you like. There’s no right or wrong answers here, just do what’s easiest, looks good, and tastes good. Just make sure that all your components are roughly the same size so that they cook evenly. Place the finished skewers in a single layer in your prepared baking dish. If you’re making enough for a big party, you may need to consider a second vessel.

Whisk together the ingredients for the marinade and brush it generously over the skewered “meat” and veggies. If you have any leftover, reserve it to baste the skewers once more halfway through the cook time. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of your vegetables, flipping after 10 and basting if desired. The vegetables should be nicely browned and tender when done.

Serve immediately over hot mashed potatoes with a small bowl of gravy for dipping on the side.

Printable Recipe


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Summer Loving

Dear fellow food bloggers, hear me out. Put the pumpkin down, step away from the cinnamon, ginger, and clove, and stash those cranberries back in the fridge for a little while longer. It’s still summer, for crying out loud! Sure, there are more brisk mornings and fewer sweltering afternoons, but even the calendar agrees that summer hasn’t given up the ghost just yet. Rather than rush head-long into the colder part of the year, I’m relishing every remaining minute of sun, and yes, even the humidity that it sometimes brings. While so much of the blogosphere seems to have moved on, casting aside the brilliant berries, tomatoes, and corn still at the market, the move seems painfully premature. Those root vegetables will still be there next month- For the next 5 months, at that- So I hope you’ll at least indulge me while I share a brief overview of a few things I’ve been loving all season long. It’s not too late to enjoy them for yourself!

Essentially an enhanced water drink, Bai5 was initially an impulse buy that turned into something of an obsession. It’s definitely a treat, considering the expense, but I can’t get enough of the intense yet natural fruit flavors. Congo Pear is my all-time favorite, granted I haven’t tried any that I wasn’t fond of. For hot summer days, there were few drinks more refreshing that I found to stock my fridge with, although that stash never lasted long.

Homegrown tomatoes. ‘Nuff said.

Up the ante a bit with heirloom tomatoes and juicy peaches together, namely in a bold salad with corn, tofu feta, and fresh basil. Eat it chilled or stuff it into some puff pastry and you’ve got yourself one killer appetizer. Get the recipe at Go Dairy Free.

Not one to shy away from sugar, I was reluctant to taste the No Sugar Added Coconut Ice Creams recently release by So Delicious. They aren’t without flaws, as they carry a faint stevia aftertaste that detracts somewhat from the overall experience, but the texture doesn’t suffer one bit. An incredible feat considering how essential sugar is to the prevention of ice crystals in traditional scoops. I would heartily recommend the Butter Pecan in particular to anyone watching their intake of sweets.

Rich, highly spiced Ethiopian food at Lalibela in New Haven, CT. Okay, so this one isn’t actually seasonal at all, and may in fact be better suited for colder weather, but I can’t resist listing this gem of a restaurant. It just so happens that a recent trip stands out as one particular high point of my summer dining experiences. A whole vegan section of the menu ensures a wealth of choices for eaters of all persuasions, and that delightfully spongy injera can’t be beat when paired with absolutely any dish on offer. Although my visits are few and far between, it always exceeds my expectations, seeming to improve upon each subsequent visit. If you’re local, or semi-local, it’s definitely worth a trip from a hundred miles away.

That’s all for now, but by no means an exhaustive list of all the edible and drinkable delights that have crossed my path this season. For those, you’ll have to stay tuned for more in-depth reviews to come!


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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

Printable Recipe


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Sweet Relief

National Ice Cream Day, decreed to fall on the third Sunday of July, couldn’t have come at a better time. Still grappling with a week-long heat wave that stubbornly refuses to break or bend, keeping cool is the top priority for anyone living on the east coast. Though always a favorite treat no matter the weather, my appetite for ice cream really kicks into high gear during the dog days of summer, and this year’s sweltering forecast has prompted the same hunger to return with a vengeance.

Well over a year has passed since Vegan a la Mode was published, and yet I can’t stop churning up new flavors. Case in point, the Peach Pie Ice Cream pictured above was inspired by the abundance of explosively ripe stone fruits sitting on the kitchen counter, combined with my new focus on pies. Tender fragments of buttery pie crust are tossed in cinnamon and sugar before being baked to an even golden-brown. Nestled in between lashings of gooey peach jam, each scoopful of peach ice cream tastes like a creamier, cooler version of its namesake. Don’t wait until the next heat wave to add this refreshing yet decadent dessert to you to-do list: Grab the recipe on GoDairyFree.org and start churning as soon as your peaches are ripe!

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