BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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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Twenty-Three

In the most minimal fashion, much like the twenty-second year preceding it, my twenty third birthday came and went. There was ice skating with my dad, a shared lunch, a black and white movie at home, and cake; no party, and no candles. Not so much a day of celebration as a day of rest, which sounds just about right to me.

Birthdays of mine have been historically bad days in the past, taking into consideration both apocalyptic winter weather and borderline psychotic meltdowns, so this quieter, uneventful rendition was a merciful change of pace. Less a marker of having arrived at some milestone, I found the date reassuring, a small checkpoint within the greater journey. I’m still here, twenty three years later, and it’s beginning to look like I may just be here in another twenty three as well. Imagine that.

Corresponding with my laid back non-celebration, the cake at hand was simple, unfussy- Homely by some estimations. All I wanted was a dark, moist, spicy gingerbread cake, one that reminded me of The One That Got Away. Ten years ago, scouting out a location for my Bat Mitzvah, I chose the final restaurant based solely on the gingerbread cake served for dessert. Dripping with caramel and finished with a fluffy halo towering over the plate, it’s now all I remember about that meal. In my youth and excitement, it never occurred to me that the event would be catered, and I would never see that beauty of a cake again. In fact, the restaurant has since gone out of business, just to close that book entirely.

So I made it for myself, ten years later. (Ten years. 10. It bears repeating because it seems wildly impossible that so much time could have passed.) Even if there were no candles and no fanfare, it was the perfect ending to my non-celebration.

Gingerbread Blackout Cake

2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3 Tablespoons Black Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
6 – 7 Teaspoons (2 Heaping Tablespoons) Ground Ginger
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee
3/4 Cup Molasses
3/4 Cup No Sugar Added Pumpkin Butter or Apple Butter
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Canola Oil

Vegan Butterscotch Sauce (From Vegan À La Mode, coming soon!) or Caramel Sauce, and Whipped Creme

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 9-inch square baking pan; Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and spices. Whisk well to distribute all of the dry goods throughout, and double-check that there are no clumps.

Separately, mix the coffee, molasses, pumpkin butter, sugar, and oil until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to bring the two together. Being careful not to over-mix, stir just until the batter is smooth and not a second longer. Transfer the batter into your prepared baking pan, smooth out the top, and pop it in the oven. Immediately turn down the heat to 325 degrees, even before you close the oven door.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean- Perhaps with a few moist crumbs sticking to it but certainly not wet. Let cool completely before slicing and serving with butterscotch sauce and whipped creme.

If time allows, this cake does get better with age, so try to make it a day or two in advance for the flavor profile to become more nuanced and balanced.

Makes 16 – 20 Servings

Printable Recipe

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