BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Not-So-Southern Biscuits

Biscuits remain something of an edible enigma to me, defying definition; as elusive as the fleeting aroma released from the oven as they spring forth, from raw dough to fluffy golden cakes. Growing up far from the southern border, I can’t claim any “authenticity” in my own attempts at biscuit fabrication, but there’s no way I’d let a lack of experience stop me from treading forth into such savory waters. I may not know exactly when to serve them, what to top them with, or how to pair them with your average meal, but if I have to build my entire menu around this simple side dish, so be it. Through trial and a whole lot of error, I’ve found my perfectly nontraditional biscuit formula that’s worth all the fuss.

Crisp, with a crackling amber-brown crust on the outside, but tender and soft on the inside, these coarse little breads bear far more flavor than your average wheat flour rolls. A harmonious marriage of cornbread and scone, these particular quick breads burst with the summery essence of corn, all bundled into a tidy handheld package. Enriched with the exotic taste of coconut milk, there’s a certain depth and buttery flavor to the crumb that no stick of congealed dairy products could ever hope to impart. They may have been inspired by the typical cream biscuit construction, hailing from the northernmost reaches of the country in Maine, but the end results transcend all boundaries. Something about the bright corn flavor makes me think of summer and backyard cookouts, although they would make just as fetching accompaniments to a cozy winter stew.

There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy these unconventional biscuits- The only key is that you enjoy them as soon as you can. Hot out of the oven, still steaming when you split them in half, and with a modest pat of buttery spread melting into every nook and cranny, the experience is of pure, freshly baked bliss.

Cornbread Coconut Biscuits

1 1/3 Cups All Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Medium-Grind Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
6 Tablespoons Vegan Margarine, Chilled
1 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk, Plus More to Finish

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with either a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pepper until thoroughly blended. Cut the cold margarine into 1/2-inch pieces before tossing them in as well, mixing to coat with the dry goods. Use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut the margarine in, stirring and mashing so that you achieve a coarse, crumbly consistency. You don’t want the margarine to become completely incorporated, but there should be no pieces remaining that are any larger than petite peas.

Shake the coconut milk well before opening to ensure that it’s properly mixed. Pour it into the bowl and stir with a wide spatula, just until the mixture comes together. Never mind an errant lump or two; they’ll bake out just fine!

Once you have a slightly shaggy, sticky dough, transfer it to a well-floured surface and pat it into a rough rectangle about 1-inch thick. Take a very sharp knife and cut it in half lengthwise, and then into either thirds or fourths crosswise, depending on how large you want your biscuits. This will result in 6 or 8 neat little squares. Gently transfer the cut biscuits to your prepared sheet pan, reshaping slightly if necessary, and brush the tops lightly with additional coconut milk to promote browning.

Bake for 18 – 22 minutes until golden brown all over. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before digging in. To save the biscuits for later, let cool completely and store in an air-tight container at room temperature. The finished biscuits will keep for up to 4 days.

Makes 6 – 8 Biscuits

Printable Recipe


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Beyond Tricks and Treats

Come November 1st, a nationwide tummy ache is pretty much the norm, stomachs still riotous with the undue stress of containing more Halloween candy than is advisable to eat in even two or three sittings. Something about the festivities just gets under the skin, the holiday itself being a grand excuse to go crazy and overdo the sugar. Common sense be damned, it’s the same pattern every year, from young to young at heart feeling the aftereffects of this particularly sweet evening. Awareness of such consequences still does little to dissuade me from indulging perhaps more than is advisable, but it does make me keenly aware of everything else fueling me that day. Without a solid foundation of whole grains and protein beforehand, the inevitable sugar crash would be a very ugly scene indeed.

That doesn’t mean those healthier options must be austere and dull, though! Black and orange to match the “traditional” colors of Halloween, this dish is a touch spicy too, enhanced with a slightly devilish addition of paprika and red pepper flakes. Toothsome wild rice makes it a stellar sort of pilaf, but it can also be an easy, no-muss main dish as well, thanks to the protein-packed black beans.

Even if you do plan on loading up on the sweet stuff, as I do, start the day out right with something a bit healthier first. There’s no need for the candy hangover the following morning!

Halloween Rice

2 Cups Uncooked Wild Rice

3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1 Small Yellow Onion, Chopped
3 Large Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Black Mustard Seeds
1/2 – 1 Small Chili Pepper, Finely Minced, or 1/4 – 3/4 Teaspoon Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Teaspoon Hot Paprika
4 Ounces (About 4 Large) Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Mirin
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 Pounds Peeled and Diced Sweet Potatoes (About 3 Cups)
1 14-Ounce Can (1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Black Beans, Rinsed and Drained
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, or to Taste

The most time-consuming part of this recipe is simply cooking the rice, so it’s best to get that out of the way early. Heat about 2 quarts of water in a medium-sized stock pot, and bring to a boil. Add the wild rice, reduce the heat slightly, and simmer at a brisk bubble for 45 – 60 minutes, until the grains are beginning to split and are tender enough to eat. Now, just like pasta, drain out the excess water, and set side the cooked rice. The rice can be made a day or two in advance, as long as it’s stored in an air-tight container in the fridge.

In the same stock pot (or one larger) melt the coconut oil and coat the bottom of the pot with it before tossing in the chopped onion. Saute over medium heat until softened and translucent; about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic, and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until everything is starting to take on an amber hue around the edges. Stir in the mustard seeds, pepper or pepper flakes, paprika, and chopped mushrooms, stirring frequently and cooking for an additional 3 – 5 minutes, until the mushroom has reduced in size and the spices are aromatic.

To prevent burning, quickly add in the stock, mirin, and vinegar, stir well, and follow with the chunks of sweet potato. The liquid won’t completely cover everything, so don’t panic. Turn down the heat to a steady simmer, cover loosely with the lid, and keep stirring the mixture every few minutes, until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender. This could take anywhere from 20 – 30 minutes, so be patient. The excess liquid should be mostly if not completely evaporated by now.

Mix in the cooked wild rice, cook over low heat for a few minutes to re-warm, and season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves 8 – 12 as a Side; 4 – 6 as a Main

Printable Recipe


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All-Purpose Eats

Patience is not one of my strengths, as any members of my family could attest, and this painfully slow, barely visible advancement of spring is driving me mad. Bolting up and out of bed upon spying little green buds through my bedroom window, I race downstairs to assess the weather… Only to discover yet another clammy, grey morning laying in wait. Feeling thoroughly ambushed by this disappointment, it’s difficult to know how best to displace that negative emotion. Typically taking to the kitchen and channeling frustrations and joys alike into something edible, the lack of seasonal produce has made even that a daunting task at times. So, let’s talk about season-less food, because it’s not all frozen or found in an aluminum can.

One could argue that potatoes are best harvested in the cooler months, but unlike so much other produce, these tubers keep so well and for so long, that they’ve effectively lost their seasonality through modernization. Unless you’re growing your own spuds (and more power to you, in that case) anyone and everyone should have easy access to dozens of varieties, all year round. Having them at the average cook’s disposal for 365 days of the year has led them to morph and mutate into dishes appropriate for any occasion, hot and cold, rich and light- You name it, there’s a potato for that.

And so I land at the recipe, with what some might find a boring, nothing-special baked potato. However, I have yet to meet a single soul who could claim to dislike such a dish, so that sounds pretty darned special to me. The real take-away from this piece though are the tofu croutons. If nothing else, ‘taters or not, you’ve got to give those crispy, savory, and somewhat salty little toppers a go. Plus, if you happen to be lucky enough to enjoy a more cooperative spring, you could just as well pile them on top of fresh, seasonal salads. As for me… I’ll just keep enjoying those potatoes a bit longer.

Loaded Baked Potatoes with Tofu Croutons

Crispy Tofu Croutons:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 14-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Tofu, Drained and Pressed for 30 Minutes

Baked Potatoes:

4 Medium Baking Potatoes, Such as Russet

1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 – 3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Soy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Sweet Paprika
2 Scallions or a Handful of Fresh Chives, Thinly Sliced
1 Cup Roughly Chopped Steamed Broccoli
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Roasted Peppers
Vegan Cheddar “Cheese” (Optional)
Avocado, Diced (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a resealable plastic container, combine the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, and pepper, and stir well.

Cut your tofu into very small cubes, about 1 cm each, keeping them as uniform as possible to ensure even baking. Place them in the container with the marinade, seal the container, and shake gently to coat the cubes in the mixture. Let rest until the oven comes up to temperature.

Transfer the tofu cubes and excess marinade to your prepared baking sheet, and spread them out into one even layer. Bake for 60 – 75 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes or so, until evenly browned.

Meanwhile, prepare your potatoes by washing them and cutting a slit into the top of each, to vent the steam. Place them in the oven alongside your tofu, and check for doneness at about 60 minutes. The skins will be slightly crispy, and they should be fork tender on the inside.

Let the potatoes cool for at least 10 minutes, and then scoop out the insides, leaving a thin layer of potato around the skins so they don’t collapse. Place them in a medium bowl, along with the olive oil, 1 tablespoon of soy milk, the salt, and paprika. Use a potato masher or fork to break up the potato and incorporate the other ingredient. Don’t overdo it, a little bit of chunkiness is perfect! If necessary, add more soymilk until it reaches your desired texture, and then add in the scallions, broccoli, and roasted peppers. Mix well to combine. Spoon the mashed potatoes back into the skins, and top with the tofu croutons. Finish off with a sprinkle of vegan “cheese” and/or diced avocado, if desired.

Serves 4

Printable Recipe

Recipe originally written for Nasoya tofu

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