BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Have a GRAIN Holiday!

Funny how the most open-ended requests are often the most challenging to fulfill. Narrow down the criteria to something incredibly specific, to what might be consider severely limited, even, and that’s where it’s easy to excel. The answer has almost been handed over, outlined in great detail about what it must or must not be, so it’s hard to go too far wrong. When tasked with creating something as vague as a “holiday dessert,” however, my mind goes blank. With endless paths to go down or ideas to explore, how can one determine what would be best? Similarly, the concept of creating a recipe that simply must have flour as an ingredient left me just short of baffled. Flour, that ubiquitous ground wheat product, is so prevalent in this household that I’d swear I could sweep up all the dust on the shelves and bake a loaf of bread with it. After churning out hundreds of desserts over the past decade, it takes a deliberate effort not to start a recipe with flour.

That’s what made Hodgson Mill‘s call to arms equally enticing and perplexing. Mandating only that recipes include one or more of their whole grain flours, such an ambiguous lure proved impossible to resist. Surely I could make something with flour- What else do I do? And yet the concepts flew by, turning out only cakey, disappointing scones and a platter of cookies with an identity crisis, seeming more like little pies than discrete 2-bite confections. Given so much free rein, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.

Until I focused my attention on chestnuts, that is. Gravely undervalued, these nuts have only a short window of availability, and rarely get the attention they deserve. Thinking more about the featured flavors than the construction allowed me to get around my baker’s block and create something truly prize-winning, if only amongst my taste testers.

Creating a hearty crumb that isn’t too dense, a blend of both whole wheat pastry flour and bread flour lends this sweet loaf a unique texture, slightly fluffier than your average pound cake. Chestnuts are blended to weave their unique essence into every bite, paired with sizable pieces for toothsome pops of nutty flavor. Though icing is typically an after though, something that could be listed as optional, this particular spicy topping is absolutely essential to contrast the hearty crumb. Don’t rush it either; the crunch and slight cooling sensation it provides after it hardens is critical to maximum enjoyment.

I’m entering this flour-inspired treat into Hodgson Mill‘s Have a GRAIN Holiday contest, and lucky for you, they’ve sweetened the deal for more than just the entrants. Anyone is welcome to enter their sweepstakes to win 1 of 50 baking gift packs, no recipe entry required. Plus, I’m happy to host an entirely separate $25 gift pack giveaway just for you lovely readers of BitterSweet, too! To get in on this great grain action, just leave me a comment about what you’re planning to bake for Thanksgiving, or simply a seasonal baking recipe that’s on your to-do list. Make sure you fill out your name and a valid email address in the appropriate boxes, and leave your message before Sunday, November 25th at midnight EST. If you just can’t wait to get baking, you can also snap up a $1 coupon off of any 5 pound bag of Hodgson Mills flour.

Now there’s simply no excuse to get into the kitchen and start your oven!

Chestnut Pound Cake

1 Cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1/2 Cup Bread Flour
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Cup Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
10 Ounces (About 1 1/2 Cups) Whole Roasted and Shelled Chestnuts, Divided
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Almond Extract

Spiced Icing:

1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1 – 2 Tablespoons Water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, sift together both flours along with the confectioner’s sugar, cornstarch, baking powder and soda, and salt. Roughly chop half of the chestnuts and toss them in, stirring to coat with flour to help prevent the pieces from all sinking to the bottom while baking. Set aside.

Place the oil, brown sugar, and the remaining half of the chestnuts into the container of your blender or food processor and thoroughly puree. Pause to scrape down the sides if necessary, ensuring that everything is smoothly combined. Add in the “milk,” cinnamon, vinegar, vanilla, and almond extract, blending once more to incorporate.

Pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry goods, and stir with a wide spatula just enough to bring the batter together. A few small lumps are far better than an overworked, tough cake. Pour the batter to your prepared pan and bake for 50 – 60 minutes, until amber brown all over an a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out cleanly. Let sit in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To prepare the icing, simply whisk together all of the ingredient, slowly adding water one drop at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. Drizzle generously over the top of the cake and allow it 1 – 2 hours to set and harden. Slice, serve, and enjoy!

Makes 1 Loaf Cake; 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Blog, Interrupted

Breaking such a long stretch of radio silence and launching right back into the regular routine is proving far more difficult than first imagined. Even with an abundant backlog and ample time carved out for writing, the words still won’t manifest into satisfying sentences. A little over one week without blogging is all it takes to shatter the easy flow of ideas and photos, it would seem. While I’m still struggling to get back on my feet, the pile of material only grows, pushing against the impulse to curl up in bed and shun all critical thought. That’s a good thing.

One time-sensitive piece that is begging to be shared, asap, is the launch of So Delicious‘ brand new Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk Beverage. Originally I had wanted to nominate this beverage as the unofficial nog of Halloween, but since our town’s spooky celebration was canceled for yet another year, it’s just as well that this is a drink suitable for any festive events. Powerfully rich and thick enough to coat the palate with one sip, this is not a drink to mess around with. Sweet as a dessert in itself, a straight shot of this autumnal treat reminds me of melted ice cream. Truth be told, it’s so sugary and viscous that I’m not sure I would recommend sipping it plain. Rather, it’s the kind of ingredient begging to be cut with a shot of espresso, or spiked with a splash of rum.

Lightly seasoned with warm spices, cinnamon leads the pack of usual suspects, ginger and nutmeg. My biggest disappointment is that despite listing pumpkin as an ingredient, the squash flavor is entirely absent. Perhaps an added pinch of salt would help awaken those more savory notes, but at least an effort was made to go beyond the typical artificially flavored route.

To make the Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk really shine, it simply must be used in baking or cooking. Imagine using it to soak French toast, instantly creating a custard without any further prep necessary. Or consider tapioca pudding with a spicy, autumnal twist. What about caramels, where any cream or coconut milk could easily be swapped out for this treat instead? Though it may not succeed as a drink by itself, it certainly has enough culinary potential to warrant a place in your fridge.


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Brace for Impact

Nerves fraying more severely than the sleeves on my favorite old sweater, our newest friend Sandy has us all running scared around here. Although we still have yet to meet the old gal, she’s already hurling wind and a few scattered raindrops our way, no doubt a mere hint of what’s to come. Even the most dire forecast can usually be ignored or at least rationalized, but when officials say that it will likely be worse than Irene, and can cause “life-threatening devastation,” well, that’s not so easy to brush off. After losing last Halloween in that brutal beating and having my very first car accident due to the road conditions, I for one am pretty nervous.

It’s a good thing that before even learning of this Frankenstorm, it turned out that I was already preparing food for it. Of course, food and electricity are at the top of the list of concerns for this vegan blogger, so thank goodness that at least the edibles are covered.

Devilishly spicy but not unbearably so, these crunchy roasted pumpkin seeds are dosed in tongue-tingling sriracha. Lightly salted and easy to munch, they were intended to be an ideal Halloween party snack, but instead are also perfectly suited to become emergency rations. Shelf-stable in an air-tight container for up to a month, this nutty blend of pumpkin and sesame seeds will prove ideal to munch on should the power go out.

There’s a million and a half ways to roast pumpkin seeds, but it never hurts to have a new flavor concept. Even if you’re not concerned about massive flooding or the potential for a week or more without electricity, I have a feeling these would still be just as enjoyable.

No matter where you are, stay safe everyone! Here’s hoping that Halloween festivities are the most frightening events in coming days, and not the aftermath of Sandy.

Sriracha Seeds

2 Cups Raw, Fresh Pumpkin Seeds (From 1 Medium Sugar Pumpkin)
2 Tablespoons White Sesame Seeds
2 Tablespoons Black Sesame Seeds
2 Tablespoons Sriracha
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Coarse Sea Salt

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silpat; set aside.

Toss all the seeds into a medium-sized bowl along with the sriracha and olive oil. Stir well to combine and thoroughly coat the dry goods with the liquid seasoning. Pour everything out onto your prepared sheets, and spread the seeds into a single even layer. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt before popping them into the oven.

Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until golden brown, stirring every 20 minutes or as needed. Let cool completely before eating or storing in an air-tight container.

Makes about 2 Cups

Printable Recipe


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Fall Flavors

Seasonal transitions can be rough, especially when they feel so abrupt. Leaves began to blush and fall overnight, as temperatures suddenly plunged back into sock-and-shoe territory. The distinct scent of earth fills the cool air, refreshing after a sweltering summer but still jarring nonetheless. Unlike the change over from winter to spring, which drags on endlessly through the first half of the year, this is an efficient changing of the guard; autumn is here, no doubt about it. Still scrambling to adjust, the best way that I’ve found to wrap my mind around the loss of stone fruits, corn, and fresh herbs is to concentrate on the new flavors to be found. Focusing on the positives, fall has just as many delicious tastes to look forward to!

What follows is a brief list of ingredients that first come to mind when I think of the season, along with recipe suggestions to inspire further autumnal appreciation. By no means exhaustive and not necessarily things that are found solely in seasonal cooking, this is simply what fall tastes like to me.

Caramelized onions
Leeks
Figs
Apples
Cider
Hazelnuts
Walnuts
Pears
Rosemary
Sage
Sweet potatoes
Pumpkins
Cinnamon
Ginger
Cloves
Caramel
Chestnuts
Brown “butter”
Oats
Rum
Speculoos

What are your favorite fall recipes, and how are you coping with the transition?


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Play it Cool

One of life’s great ironies is that summer brings in the widest selection of the most tempting produce, but also oppressive heat that makes it a less than appealing proposition to turn on the stove or oven to cook with it. To get the most bang for your vegetative buck, chilled soups are the way to go. Little prep work yields lots of flavor and something that can be enjoyed even as the mercury pushes 100. Though easily the most recognizable cold starter on the block, there’s so much more to the category than the classic gazpacho.

That’s where my creamy cucumber concoction comes in. Featuring my favorite vegetable of all time, the saying “cool as a cucumber” has withstood the test of time, and truly makes this soup the best food for impossibly hot afternoons or evenings. Ideal for both parties or solo servings, it takes almost no effort to whip up, and will keep in the fridge for at least three days, gaining a more complex and harmoniously melded flavor in time. The balance between creamy, soothing yogurt and the sharp punch of horseradish makes each bowlful much more exciting than the pale appearance might let on. Taking inspiration form tzadziki, a generous handful of fresh dill lends a garden-fresh flavor that brightens the whole dish.

For a satisfying, no-cook summer soup, think beyond gazpacho- Save the tomatoes for garnish this time around.

Cucumber-Yogurt Soup

3 Pounds Cucumbers (About 4 Medium Cucumbers)
1/4 Cup Shelled Hemp Seeds
1 Clove Garlic
2 Cups Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Prepared Horseradish
1/4 Teaspoon Ground White Pepper
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Chives
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Dill
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Medium Tomatoes, Seeded and Diced

Peel and slice the cucumbers in half, removing watery seeds if necessary. Finely dice 1 cucumber, and set aside. Chop the remaining cukes into medium-sized chunks, and toss them into your blender, along with hemp, garlic, “yogurt,” vinegar, olive oil, salt (starting with the lesser amount), horseradish, and pepper. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth. If using a low-powered blender, be patient and give it plenty of time to break down the seeds, straining if necessary. Add in the chopped herbs, and slowly begin to blend again. Incorporate the stock slowly while the motor runs, until it reaches your desired consistency.* Give it a taste, adding more salt if needed.

Stir in the reserved diced cucumber by hand, in addition to the seeded and diced tomatoes. Serve immediately or chill for up to three days. For best flavor, chill for at least three hours before enjoying. Stir in additional stock after chilling if needed, as it does tend to thicken as it sits.

*You could also keep it very thick, omitting the stock, to serve it as a dip.

Makes 6 – 7 Cups Soup

Printable Recipe


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White as Springtime Snow

White gazpacho has been something of an enigma to me ever since I first learned of its existence. Thick, rich, and creamy, it seemed the absolute antithesis of the light but bold, veggie-packed tomato gazpacho I already knew and loved. Both are chilled soups, but the similarities ended there. Like the differences between spring and summer, it can sometimes be difficult to discern where one ends and the other begins, but it’s as clear as night and day when viewed from a distance.

Deceptively light and refreshing, the paler version of this old school soup is far richer and more satisfying than such a simple preparation would lead you to believe. Perfectly suited to warm, muggy days, but still hearty enough to hold an overwintered appetite in check, it’s the best thing for days betwixt and between two (or three) seasons. I could hardly do such a classic, straightforward recipe as written though- Especially not when the short-lived white asparagus beckoned from nearby grocery shelves. Rather than using stale bread or green grapes to make up the bulk of the base, I opted to feature the subtle vegetal flavor of these precious blonde stalks. Standard green asparagus could make a fine substitute in terms of flavor, but naturally, you’d end up with a green gazpacho instead.

For added flair, freshly plucked violets or other edible flowers are completely optional, but instantly liven up the otherwise monochromatic color palate with style.

White Asparagus Gazpacho

1 Pound White Asparagus, Ends Trimmed
1/2 Cup Sliced or Slivered Almonds
1 Small Shallot, Diced
2 Cloves Roasted Garlic
1 Medium Cucumber, Peeled and Chopped (Seeded if Necessary), Divided (Reserve 1/4 Cup for Garnish)
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 – 3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground White Pepper
1/4 Cup Avocado Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 – 1 1/2 Cups Vegetable Stock

Truffle Oil, to Garnish (Optional)
Additional Slivered Almonds, to Garnish

Bring a large stockpot full of water to a boil. Dunk in the prepared asparagus very briefly, for about 1 – 2 minutes, in order to blanch. Drain and immediately immerse the stalks in an ice-water bath to cool them down as quickly as possible and arrest the cooking process. Drain once more and roughly chop before tossing the pieces into your blender. Puree the asparagus along with all of the other ingredients, except for the oil, water, and garnishes. Once smooth, slowly drizzle in the oil while the machine continues to run, to emulsify the mixture. Repeat this process with stock, adding enough until it reaches your desired viscosity. Note that if you make this soup in advance and store it in the fridge, you will likely need to thin it out further after it sits. Serve immediately or chill for a more refreshing, ice-cold soup, and top portions with the reserved chopped cucumber, additional almonds, and truffle oil, if desired.

Serves 4 – 6

Printable Recipe


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Rah, Rah, Rhubarb!

If rhubarb were playing on a team, would anyone actually cheer for it? A sad, unloved vegetable with an identity crisis, rhubarb is always paired up with the show-stealing strawberry, smothered by sweetness, and thrown into the game more as an afterthought than a star. You’d think that after years of strawberry-rhubarb pies and strawberry-rhubarb crumbles, more bakers would take a chance on letting the red stalks stand alone for once, but no, perish the thought! Rhubarb is bitter, unpalatable, and unable to carry a proper dessert without help from something more flavorful. In fact, this silent player is hardly even a staple for standard grocery stores. Upon asking a produce department worker if they had any early season rhubarb yet, I was looked at as if I had requested a vegan angel food cake. Forget about having never heard of it, this person (who specializes in fresh fruits and vegetables, mind you) couldn’t even decipher what I was saying. Rubbage? Rubar? Well, I’ll take that as a “no,” then.

But rhubarb isn’t some awful ingredient to be either avoided or covered up, like an embarrassing pet stain on the living room carpet. When treated with respect, it makes for perfectly delicious desserts, as is evidenced by these bright, springy cupcakes. Luck would have it that I eventually found a bag of frozen rhubarb, of all things, and so I set right to work redeeming this misunderstood plant.

Topped off with a simple vanilla bean frosting so as not to take over and cover that delicate rhubarb flavor, these little numbers are further beautified by candied violets. Incredibly hard to find and even harder to transport intact, I had been saving up these precious edibles for quite some time now, so it’s a good thing they’re well-preserved by sugar. Such an ornate garnish is far from necessary though- The rhubarb really does sell these treats all by itself.

Rhubarb Cupcakes

2 Cups Chopped Rhubarb, Fresh or Frozen and Thawed
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Orange Juice
1/3 Cup Canola Oil
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Vanilla Bean Frosting:

1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Paste or Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line 14 cupcake tins with decorative papers. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, combine the rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Let stew, stirring periodically, for about 10 – 15 minutes, until the rhubarb becomes so tender that it pretty much falls apart. If necessary, mash it lightly with your spatula to help it break down. Allow the rhubarb to cool for 15 minute before proceeding.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda. Stir the orange juice, oil, and vanilla into the rhubarb mixture, and then add all of those liquids into the bowl of flour. Stir with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together smoothly; a few small lumps remaining are no reason for alarm. Just be sure not to over-mix, or you’ll create a tough cake.

Dole out the batter equally between your prepared cupcake tins, and slide them into the oven. Bake for 18 minutes, until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Let cool completely before applying the frosting.

For the frosting, throw room temperature margarine into your mixer, and beat thoroughly until softened. Add in the confectioner’s sugar and start mixing on a low speed to prevent the dry goods from flying out of the work bowl. Add in the vanilla paste or extract, and slowly drizzle in the non-dairy milk, until the frosting reaches a smooth but still firm consistency. Whip on high speed for about 5 minutes until fluffy. Pipe or spread on cupcakes as desired.

Makes 14 Cupcakes

Printable Recipe

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