BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Smart Sweets

Though self-prescribed with good intentions, a striking majority of New Year’s resolutions are imagined in a world of extremes. Everything is painted in black and white; there is success and failure, productivity and laziness, good or bad foods. The temptation to simplify the complex “rules” of the road is great for those most desperate for change, especially when so much mainstream advice points in that very direction. What excitement is there in moderation? How could you sell anything based on common sense?

Quite frankly, I’m sick of this all-or-nothing approach. Resolutions themselves are not the problem, but the way society holds us to them. Friends, I’m not expert on the matter, but if you want my advice, I think we should make a bit more room in this renewed healthy eating regimen for chocolate.

As with all healthy eating choices, quality is absolutely essential for success, which is exactly what Vega has built their reputation on. Though best known for their powdered protein and meal-replacement shakes, I was naturally drawn more to their enticing array of snacking selections. Given the opportunity to investigate these unsung heroes further, I knew from the start that it would somehow end in a deceptively decadent dessert. Maca Chocolate Bars provided the real inspiration, with their gently earthy, mineral-y quality and slightly bitter edge calling out for a touch more sweetness to round out the deep cacao flavors. Lovers of deep, dark, serious chocolate would love them as is, but for someone coming off of a holiday sugar high, I must admit that my palate calls for something a bit less intense.

Incorporating the brilliantly “Karamelized” SaviSeed, roasted and sugar-coated Inca peanuts, for a satisfying crunch, Nava Atlas’ fool-proof recipe for unbaked brownies seemed custom made for just these ingredients. A few easy substitutions yielded the tastiest, yet healthiest, raw brownie that has ever passed my lips. As the original formula proves, however, no specialty ingredients need apply; switch up the fruits, nuts, and chocolate for equally delicious treats that will help keep your resolutions on track. I’ve successfully used raisins instead of prunes, almonds instead of cashews, and regular dark chocolate, in additional to Nava’s suggestions, all to the same enthusiastic reception. You have my sweet-toothed word that they don’t taste the least bit like “health food,” and you will never regret savoring that one extra square.

Mega Maca Brownies
Adapted from Nava Atlas’ Unbaked Fudgy Brownies from Plant Power

1 Cup Raw Cashews
1 Cup Pitted Prunes
3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
4 (1.4 Ounce) Maca Chocolate Bars, Finely Chopped, Divided
1/4 Cup Sacha Inchi, Roughly Chopped

Place the cashews in your food processor and pulse until ground to a fine powder. Add in the prunes, cocoa powder, vanilla, salt, and half of the chopped chocolate. Pulse once more to incorporate, processing until the mixture holds together when pressed. Be patient, as this may take a few minutes.

Add the remaining chocolate along with the sacha inchi and pulse just briefly to distribute the goodies throughout the mixture. These final additions should be roughly chopped but still easily visible. You don’t want to puree the whole thing, since it’s much more satisfying with a bit of texture left in it.

Transfer the mixture to a lightly greased 8 x 8-inch square pan. Use a wide spatula to press it evenly into the bottom before stashing it in the fridge. Chill for at least an hour before slicing and serving. Keep leftovers covered and stored in the refrigerator for no more than a week, or in the freezer for up to a month.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

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Healthy Decadence

There’s a real art in finding the delicate balance between want and need, sweet and savory, austere and indulgent. All too often battling cravings that fall on the more hedonistic side of the scale, reaching some semblance of middle ground is especially important for this constant snacker. Grazing through my day with the greatest of ease, finding that ideal combination that will satisfy both my sweet tooth and my hunger is always the goal, but rarely the result of endless pantry raids throughout the day.

Inspired by yet another excellent new protein powder kindly provided as a sample by Ka’Chava, rather than just drink my superfoods straight, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get in the kitchen and play around. Energy bars were a natural first though, but too obvious, too easy to get excited about. Healthy, protein-packed fudge, though? Now that’s a wholesome treat one could lust after.

Rich, but not overwhelmingly so, crunchy cacao nibs punctuate the soft texture, much like chocolate chips strewn through unbaked cookie dough. A thin sheet of dark, slightly bitter chocolate caps off each small square with just the right extra dose of decadence, although it’s strictly optional if you’re more of a protein purist. Eaten straight out of the fridge, there are few tastier yet still healthy tidbits out there that can power me through a long day.

Protein Fudge

1 Cup Raw Cashews, Soaked for 4 – 6 Hours
1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
1/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
1 Packet (58.5g) Ka’Chava Chocolate Protein Powder
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs

To Finish:

3 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon Coconut Oil, Melted

Thoroughly drain your cashews before tossing them into your blender. A high-speed blender is recommended for this recipe to ensure the smoothest texture possible, but as long as you’re patient with a lower-powered model and let it process for a bit longer, the recipe shouldn’t suffer. Add in the melted coconut oil, coconut sugar, protein powder, vanilla, and salt, and start the machine on the lowest setting to begin breaking down the cashews. Slowly increase the speed until you reach the highest setting, using the plunger to keep the contents of the blender all moving towards the blade, or pausing to scrape down the sides of the container, as needed. It may take some time for everything to combine smoothly, without any residual cashew pieces or graininess to be found.

Meanwhile, line an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan with foil, lightly grease, and set aside.

Once your fudge mixture is thoroughly blended, stir in the cacao nibs by hand to evenly distribute them throughout. Transfer everything to your prepared pan and use a wide spatula to smooth out the top. Place the pan on a flat surface in your freezer to begin solidifying.

To finish off your fudge, place the finely chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe dish and heat for 60 seconds. Stir thoroughly until all of the chocolate is melted and no pieces remain. If necessary, continue microwaving at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well after each one, until perfectly smooth. Retrieve the fudge from the freezer, pour the melted chocolate all over the top, and spread it out evenly so that it covers the entire pan. Return the pan of fudge to the freezer and let rest, undisturbed, for at least 3 hours.

Using the foil as a sling, pull the fudge out of the loaf pan and slice into small squares with a very sharp knife. To make cleaner cuts through the chocolate topping, first run the knife under very hot water and dry thoroughly before making your first incision.

Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes 16 – 20 Small Squares

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Monstrous Munchies

Halloween is right around the corner, but if you haven’t yet figured out your snacking strategy for when the moon rises and the creatures of the night emerge, don’t panic! Rather than reaching for a protective head of garlic, I say go for the sweets and invite those monsters right on in. They’ll feel perfectly at home when you present them with a heaping bowlful of gloriously green Matcha Monster Munch.

Candied green tea popcorn, tossed with crunchy pepitas and drenched in a generous drizzle of dark chocolate is a treat to tempt even the most distasteful beasts. Perfect for a party or just a quiet night of answering the doorbell for trick-or-treaters, it’s a snack that’s as irresistible as it is vibrant.

Quick, jump on your broomstick and fly over to the recipe on Go Dairy Free, before the witching hour is over!


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Poke Fun at Soybeans

Despite rising temperatures and flourishing green foliage, my mind still wanders back to the tropical coasts of Hawaii. So distant in memory that it all seems like a dream, it’s hard to imagine what paradise looks like at this time of year. If the seasons don’t change drastically, do the foods? Although I’m one of the biggest proponents out there for eating seasonally, part of me clings to the hope that nothing ever changes on the islands. Without distinct seasons, it’s a perfectly reasonable concept, I reason with myself, trying to ignore how selfish the desire is. Truthfully, nothing ever stays quite the same, but I’m optimistic that the food culture will remain just as vibrant day in and day out, unfettered by the passage of time.

Progress is definitely on the horizons, and that is one adjustment I would never stand in the way of. Vegan renditions of classic Hawaiian fare proved somewhat difficult to come by, making the random sighting of soybean poke at a nondescript Foodland grocery store such a delightful shock to the system. Were my eyes deceiving me? Poke, defined as a preparation of raw fish, in bean format? Not a chance in hell would I leave without this fabulous impulse buy; a full pound came back to the hotel room with me that evening, and not an ounce remained by daybreak.

A stroke of simple brilliance, the combination of flavors fuse to create something that all palates can appreciate. With the savory flavors of garlic, soy sauce, and the bright pop of red pepper flakes melded throughout, you can’t go wrong. It was the first thing I tried to recreate upon my return home, so it’s about time this appetizer made it into the blog’s spotlight. For parties or gatherings, this stuff goes fast- You may want to double or even triple the amounts.


Soybean Poke

1 Pound Frozen Edamame in Shells
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon (3 – 4 Cloves) Finely Minced Garlic
1/8 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
3 Tablespoons Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce
Coarse Sea Salt, to Taste

In a medium or large stock pot, set about 2 quarts of water over medium heat and cover with the lid. Bring it up to a boil before tossing in the frozen edamame- No need to thaw. Boil uncovered for 3 – 4 minutes, until the pods are thawed and tender. If you overcook them, the beans will start ejecting themselves from their shells, but they’re still just as tasty, if a bit softer in texture. Drain thoroughly.

Meanwhile, combine both oils and the minced garlic in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is aromatic but not quite browned. Add in the prepared edamame along with the red pepper flakes and soy sauce, tossing to incorporate. Saute for just 2 – 3 minutes longer to infuse the soybeans with the marinade.

Turn off the heat and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add a pinch of salt over the top if desired, but use that salt sparingly! The soy sauce already adds quite a bit of sodium into the mix, so you may find it doesn’t need any extra at all.

Enjoy hot or or at room temperature.

Makes 4 – 6 Snack-Sized Servings

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Pop it Like it’s Hot

Upon arrival in Hawaii, there were only a few foods I knew were must-eats, and Hurricane Popcorn was near the top. A simple concept that has won fiercely loyal fans, boxes are said to be smuggled back the mainland by those in the know, craving the distinctive island snack food. Found in both popped and unpopped formats, the microwave bags are the only way to go for the true Hurricane Popcorn experience.

Broken down into separate packets containing popcorn kernels, dry toppings, and buttery flavor, it became immediately obvious that a homemade equivalent would be just about as complex to assemble. Salty, rich, and packed with umami, its appeal is easy to understand, but the ingredients themselves are rather unsavory. In the same vein as “slimy yet satisfying,” those glistening, crispy kernels made a lasting impression as “good but greasy.” Certainly, we can all do better… So after returning home, that’s just what I did.

Of course, never satisfied to go the basic route, I tried to one-up the original by making my own savory, soy sauce-infused mochi pieces, more true to the description than the dry rice crackers included in a plastic baggie. Though it’s not technically mochi, the sticky pounded rice cakes typically enjoyed for desserts, arare do fit the bill better for this unique snack application. Simpler is truly better, so don’t be fooled by the above photo; to best satisfy the next Hawaiian-inspired snack attack, do as I say, not as I do.

Homemade Hurricane Popcorn

2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1/2 Cup Unpopped Popcorn Kernels
3 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
3 – 4 Tablespoons Ao Nori
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Seeds (White, Black, or a Blend)
1 Cup Hana Arare (Flower-Shaped Rice Crackers)
Flaky Sea Salt, to Taste

In a large stock pot with high sides, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Place 3 – 4 popcorn kernels in the pot, cover, and once one pops, that will mean your oil has come up to the right temperature to really get popping. Add the remaining unpopped popcorn into the pan and cover the pan once more.

Gently shake the pan over the heat, still covered, to pop the kernels evenly and prevent already popped corn from burning. When the pace of popping slows to one pop every 3 – 5 seconds, remove the pan from the heat. Keep the pot covered while the final kernels pop; about 3 minutes. Carefully lift the lid away from you, as there will be a good deal of very hot steam looking to escape.

Meanwhile, melt the margarine in a microwave-safe dish, heating for 30 – 60 seconds. Transfer the popped corn to your desired serving bowl, leaving any unpopped kernels in the bottom of the pot. Drizzle the melted margarine all over, tossing to coat. Sprinkle in the nori flakes, sesame seeds, and salt, to taste. Finally add the arare right on top, and stir gently to incorporate. Enjoy right away!

Makes Approximately 4 Quarts (About 4 Servings)

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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

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Two Peas from Different Pods

Garbanzo beans, those humble little legumes, have miraculously managed to rise within the ranks of standard beans to celebrity status. They’ve worked hard to get to the top of the heap, and considering their versatility and culinary potential, they certainly deserve their time in the spotlight. Appearing in curries, stews, salads, spreads, and breads alike, their agent must work tirelessly, securing them top billing on menus that span every cuisine across the globe. Though I’m a lifelong fan of their work, it becomes somewhat tiring to see garbanzos starring in yet another feature, week after week, month after month. After all, why should chickpeas have all the fun? There are plenty of other peas in the sea, so to speak.

Exploring the vast array of bean flours now readily available on the market, for one reason or another, I latched onto green pea flour in particular. Without ever having cooked with it prior, I plunged in blindly and ordered an entire case. Though I’ll likely have a decent supply of pea flour for a solid decade now, that wild purchase brought me on of the most delicious snack mash-ups just waiting to happen: Wasabi pea panisse.

Prepared exactly the same way as standard chickpea panisse, the hot bite of wasabi is added to the subtly sweet base of green peas. A cult classic in its traditional format, this study in flavor contrasts is only enhanced when expanded upon to include a crispy, lightly salted exterior concealing a soft, almost creamy center.

Addictive as that combination was, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. Instead of a mere sprinkling of salt, an extra layer of spice and flavor via shichimi togarashi was the cherry on top of this savory sundae. Pairing the green pea fries with an umami-packed miso aioli simply sent this snack over the top. No longer just a midnight munch, it’s a snack that could entice hordes of party goers at any function, fancy or casual. Sorry chickpeas; You’ll have to sit this one out.

And in case you’re wondering…

…Yes, they really are delightfully green on the inside!

Wasabi Pea Panisse
Adapted from David Lebovitz

4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 – 1 1/2 Tablespoon Wasabi Paste*
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 1/4 Cups Green Pea Flour

Mildly Flavored Olive Oil or Canola Oil, for Frying
Coarse Sea Salt
Shichimi Togarashi (Optional)

Miso Aioli:

1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Plain Greek-Style Coconut Yogurt**
1/4 Cup Shiro (White) Miso Paste
1 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Mirin
2 – 3 Cloves Roasted Garlic
1 Teaspoon Tamari or Soy Sauce

*Beware of less than savory wasabi pastes that include sneaky stabilizers and curious fillers, such a milk derivatives. Wasabi pastes can vary greatly in intensity, so add it according to your tastes and the brand you have on hand. You can also use reconstituted wasabi powder in a pinch, but I’ve found that they tend to taste dusty and can never reach the same heat level.

**If you can’t get a hold of this, you can also use regular vegan yogurt, but bear in mind that the consistency of your aioli will be considerably thinner.

Lightly grease a 11 x 7-inch baking dish and set aside. [David recommends a 9-inch square, which also works fine, but I found that the panisse had to be cut in half horizontally so that they weren’t thick slabs.]

Place the vegetable stock, oil, wasabi paste, and salt in a medium or large saucepan, and whisk thoroughly to incorporate the wasabi. Set over medium heat, and bring the liquid just to the brink of boiling. When the bubbles threaten to erupt on the surface, add in the green pea flour, whisking vigorously the whole time to prevent lumps from forming. As the mixture begins to think, you’ll need to switch to a wooden spoon to continue stirring, as it will become quite stiff in no time at all. Continue to cook and stir for up to 10 minutes, until the batter is thick enough to hold its shape. In my experience, this took much less time, but it will vary depending on your stove and how much moisture is in the air, so stay connected to the process at all times.

Transfer the pea batter to your prepared pan, and smooth out the top with a spatula. Let cool completely before proceeding. If making this for a specific function, it’s helpful to prepare this a day in advance and refrigerate it overnight.

Meanwhile, prepare the miso aioli simply by placing all of the ingredients in your blender or food processor, and puree until smooth. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to serve.

Once the pea mixture has cooled and solidified into a block, turn it out onto a cutting board and slice it into fingers about 3/4 inch x 3 inches- But please don’t break out the ruler, the exact measurements aren’t critical! Heat your oil of choice in a high-sided saute pan, and set out a landing strip of paper towels nearby to rest the finished panisse on. When the oil is hot and shimmering, fry just a handful of panisse at a time so as not to crowd the pan. Use tongs to turn them, and cook so that each side is golden brown. Remove and drain on the paper towels, sprinkling them with salt and shichimi togarashi if desired while still hot. Serve immediately with miso aioli on the side.

Makes about 40 Panisse; about 1 Cup Aioli

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