BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Pea-Brained

To say that I’ve been feeling a bit scattered lately would be putting it lightly. Silly little oversights have punctuated the last couple of days, spicing up the mundane routine with strange surprises sprinkled here and there. Dirty dishes some how find their way back into cupboards, unwashed; recipe components are completed, and then forgotten until the meal is fully devoured; days seep through my fingers like water, obliterating a once rigid posting schedule. Nothing to be alarmed about, but it’s clear that running on autopilot is not serving my needs particularly well lately. “Pea-brained” would describe the situation quite nicely, and not just because of my increasingly dimwitted mistakes. Spring is on my mind, driving me to the point of distraction. Longer, brighter days captivate me while simultaneously throwing off my finely tuned rhythm, and the influx of fresh, vibrant produce easily overwhelms my senses. What to eat first? Where to go, what to do? Every winter seems interminable, so when it finally relinquishes its icy grip, it feels like a brand new world out there.

The best cure for seasonal disorientation is immersion, so let’s jump right in and celebrate the other reason for my pea-brained state: Peas! In all their green glory, this simple salad combines snow peas, pea shoots, and English peas to showcase their myriad textures, flavors, and shapes. The rather silly, rhyming title doesn’t fully do this combination justice, but was unavoidable thanks to the matcha tea-infused dressing, lending equal parts bitterness and sweetness to the blend.

In case you’re suffering from an equally pea-brained daze, a heaping helping of this bright, fresh homage to the humble pea might just be the antidote.

Three Pea Tea Salad

6 Ounces Snow Peas, Thinly Sliced on the Diagonal
4 Ounces Pea Shoots
8 Ounces Raw English Peas

Green Tea Dressing:

2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Tablespoon Yellow Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1/2 Teaspoon Matcha Powder
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

I think you can already see how this one should come together, but in case you need someone to hold your hand, here’s the rundown: Toss the sliced snow peas, pea shoots, and English peas together in a large bowl. Separately whisk together all of the ingredients for the green tea dressing, beating the mixture thoroughly until smooth. Pour it all over the vegetables, tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately!

Makes 3 – 4 Side Dish-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe


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Pavlovian Conditioning

Fancy and flour-free, it’s unlikely that you’d find any dessert better suited for Passover than the classic pavlova. Crispy meringue cradles whipped cream and fresh fruits, creating a simultaneously light and rich sensation all in one bite. Based heavily on egg whites and dairy, this versatile treat is surprisingly easy to veganize while remaining every bit as luscious. Pictured above is a miniature interpretation, perfect for a single serving so that no one has to share.

It all starts with the Meringue Cookies on page 191 of Vegan Desserts, piped in small nest shapes with a large star tip. For a particularly spring-y rendition, the addition of lemon zest for flavor and a tiny pinch of turmeric for a sunny yellow hue does wonders to perk up the plain vanilla base. After baking for the time as written, just drop down the oven temperature to 250 and bake for an additional 15 – 20 minutes longer to yield perfectly crisp shells, through and through. Once cooled, simply fill the indentation of each little cookie with a dollop of whipped coconut cream and a handful of ripe berries to seal the deal.

The combination of crunchy lemon cookie, creamy whipped coconut, and juicy berries will undoubtedly have all your guests drooling.


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Pretty in Pink

May the record show that despite previous protestation, I honestly do have nothing against the union of strawberry and rhubarb. They’re a great couple who seem genuinely happy together, so who am I to break them up? Sure, it wouldn’t hurt for either to have a bit more alone time, maybe see a few other people on the side, but I won’t begrudge their magnetism to each other. Rather, it might be wiser to invite a new ingredient or two to the party in order to liven up the typical date night.

White chocolate cheesecake is the ideal sweet compliment to their tart, fruity flavor. Flecked with vanilla bean, lusciously rich and creamy, it seemed a shame to bake that base into a solid brick, so a simple parfait was in order. Crunchy graham cracker streusel makes up the base, lightly spiced with a touch of warm, comforting cinnamon, immediately followed by the rhubarb compote, infused with cardamom, ginger, and a hint of zesty orange. The real star of the show, the white chocolate cheesecake mousse, comes together in a snap, and is decadent enough to go well with just about any fruit or cookie combo. A dice of fresh strawberries on top keeps things light and refreshing, but it’s hard to resist one final flourish of mousse to top it all off.

It’s spring in a glass, complete with those star-crossed lovers strawberry and rhubarb, a delicious duo if there ever was one.

Spring Cheesecake Parfaits

Graham Cracker Streusel:

9 Rectangle Graham Crackers (1 Sleeve)
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Rhubarb Compote:

1 1/2 Pounds Chopped Rhubarb, Divided
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Orange Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom

White Chocolate Cheesecake Mousse:

6 Ounces Vegan White Chocolate, Homemade Chunks or Store-Bought Chips
1/4 Cup Vegan “Creamer”
2 8-Ounce Packages Vegan “Cream Cheese”
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract*
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

1/2 – 1 Pound Fresh Strawberries, Hulled and Diced

*I used my homemade white chocolate, which is what gave it those lovely vanilla bean specks. If you opt for the store-bought alternative, you may wish to use vanilla bean paste or 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped, for the same visual effect.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silpat; set aside.

Break up the graham crackers and toss the pieces into your food processor. Pulse until mostly broken down, with a few larger chunks remaining. Add in the melted margarine, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse to combine. Spread out the resulting crumbs into small clumps on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until golden brown. Let cool.

Meanwhile, you can get the compote started. Set a medium saucepan on the stove over moderate heat, and mix together 1 pound of the rhubarb along with the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture up to a simmer, and let the rhubarb stew for 10 – 15 minutes, until broken down and jammy. Add in the remaining measure of rhubarb, and simmer for an additional 5 – 10 minutes, just until tender. This will give the compote a nice variety of textures. Let cool and chill thoroughly before using.

Finally, for the cheesecake portion, place the chunks of chips of white chocolate in a microwave-safe dish, and pour the “creamer” on top. Microwave for 1 – 2 minutes at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each heating. White chocolate can be stubborn about melting, so be patient and keep a close eye on the mixture so that it doesn’t burn. Once it’s burnt, there’s no fixing it.

Place the “cream cheese,” vanilla extract, and salt in your (washed and dried) food processor, and blend to combine. Pour in the melted white chocolate, and thoroughly puree, until completely smooth and all ingredients are incorporated. If it seems to loose to pipe, chill for 30 minutes before proceeding.

To assemble your parfaits, find 6 – 8 matching glasses, and start with a spoonful or two of the streusel at the bottom. Top that with a good layer of the compote, and then pipe or spoon over a layer of the cheesecake mousse. Cover that with an even layer of diced strawberries, and if desired, finish with one final dollop of mousse. Garnish with halved strawberries and mint leaves for extra flair. Serve chilled.

Makes 6 – 8 Parfaits

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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In [Lemon] Mint Condition

Years ago, back when a trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house really was a trek through the woods, and quite a few miles, I would spend the long car ride anticipating all of the goodies to come. Nothing less than the perfect grandparents, they kept their home stocked with the foods that my young, underdeveloped palate adored, and often was denied in most circumstances. It was as if they went grocery shopping with just us kids in mind. Cabinets stacked high with dried pasta, we could have chosen a new shape each visit and still have never run out of new whimsical noodles to try. Candy dishes decorated every spare flat surface, and I recall on more than one occasion slipping away to “play piano” in order to get dibs on the mint chocolates stashed on the glossy wooden lid.

Best of all, though, was the spare fridge in the basement. That’s where the real treasure was hidden: the cookies.

Perhaps they had a penchant for buying in bulk, but it seemed as though there were never fewer than a half-dozen open packages to pick at. Eaten right away, with the refrigerator’s cool breath still clinging to them, chilling each morsel to the core, it was a unique experience that made even mundane, store-bought baked goods seem somehow special. My absolute favorites were the big, crisp cookies covered in so much powdered sugar that you couldn’t help but spray some of the white sweetness all over your clothes, and the surrounding furniture, as you ate. I never learned the name of those cookies and haven’t seen the exact ones since, but they sound a whole lot like the discontinued lemon coolers, a classic Girl Scouts offering.

With the annual Girl Scouts’ harassment in full-swing, these sweets immediately came to mind, and I couldn’t resist a little trip down memory lane. A bit more grown up than those original cookies, my version adds a bright splash of peppermint to the party, replicating that cooling sensation I enjoyed so much. For the full experience, you’ve simply got to store them in the fridge… Although considering how easy they are to eat, I can’t promise that will allow them to last any longer!

Lemon-Mint Cooler Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1 Lemon
2 – 4 Drops Peppermint Oil, or 1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoons Peppermint Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla

1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, thoroughly cream together the margarine and granulated sugar using the paddle attachment. Pause periodically to scrape down the side of the bowl as necessary. Once the mixture is homogeneous and fluffy, add in the lemon zest, peppermint, and salt, and mix to combine. Introduce the flour and baking soda next, starting the mixer on a slow speed until the flour is mostly incorporated, to prevent the dry goods from flying out and re-decorating the kitchen. Finally, add the lemon juice and vanilla. It may seem as though the mixture is too dry to come together, but be patient and keep mixing; it will eventually form cohesive dough. Resist the urge to add more liquid!

Scoop out walnut-sized balls and roll them between your palms to achieve smooth spheres. Place them at least 1-inch apart on your prepared baking sheets, and flatten them out slightly. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until the bottom edges just begin to brown. Carefully pull the cookie-topped silpats or baking sheets off of the hot sheet pans, and let rest for 5 minutes before tossing them in the confectioner’s sugar. Let cool completely before enjoying. Better yet, store them in the fridge for an even more cooling treat!

Makes 2 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Soup Kitchen

Left alone and given half a chance, my daily personal menu could easily be reduced to little more than soups and stews. Quite frankly, it’s incredibly that there’s any savory food that makes it onto this blog besides those more liquid edibles, for as much as I make and eat them! Perhaps its the fact that they often defy recipes, one of their most attractive features in the first place, that my love for soup isn’t properly documented. Experience has shown that whatever you’ve got lying around in the fridge, waiting to be used up, is what tastes best in soup. Truly! The more desperate it is to be used, the smaller the scraps that can find no other culinary destination, they are what you should put in you soup right this moment. Besides, how many people need to be told how to put a mirepoix, some beans, and a handful of spices into a big pot with plenty of water? Even the most inexperienced and reluctant cooks can figure that procedure out, no recipe required. It feels silly to spell it out, and yet, there are some creations that beg to be recorded and shared.

An unlikely combination even in my eyes, I didn’t expect that leftover can of coconut milk to embrace the green, vegetal flavor of asparagus nearly so harmoniously. Brightened with zippy bites of lemon, ginger, and pepper, it’s a departure from my standard soup spicing, and just the breath of fresh air I so deeply needed in my soup routine. Although it may still be fairly basic, I’ve conquered my resistance to sharing what seems simple; A recipe needn’t be complicated to be worth talking about.

Asparagus and Coconut Soup

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Medium Leeks, Sliced Lengthwise, Chopped, and Thoroughly Cleaned*
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
12 – 16 Ounces Trimmed Fresh Asparagus, Roughly Chopped (About 1 Bunch)
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
4 Ounces Spinach or Other Leafy Greens (Such as Kale, Collards, etc)
1 Cup Coconut Milk (Full Fat, Don’t Skimp!)
Zest of 1 Lemon
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

1/4 Cup Finely Fresh Chives and Chive Blossoms, or Scallions
Avocado Oil or Extra-Virgin Olive Oil for Garnish (Optional)

*Typically, I slit my leeks down the center and then shake them out under cold water until clean, but these were particularly dirty. Thus, I fully sliced them and placed them in a colander with fairly large holes. Tossing them around in the colander under cold water, more of the inner leek was exposed, and I could wash away the excess dirt more easily. Whatever you do, be thorough! These unsuspecting alliums can hold on to a ton of grit, and that will not make for the most pleasant soup.

Pour the oil into the bottom of a medium soup pot and set it over moderate heat on the stove. Once the oil is hot, add in the leeks and ginger, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the leeks are soft and the ginger is aromatic. Sprinkle in the salt, followed by the asparagus and stock. Bring the brothy soup to a boil, then reduce the heat so that it’s at a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and let cook until the asparagus is tender and bright green; about 8 – 10 minutes. Add the spinach or other greens, and continue to cook just until wilted, only 2 – 4 minutes more should do it.

Turn off the heat and finally incorporate the coconut milk, lemon zest, and pepper. Working in batches if necessary, transfer soup to your blender and thoroughly puree until smooth completely. Alternately, hit it with an immersion blender while still in the pot. You can either serve the soup right away while still hot, or chill it for at least two hours for a more refreshing blend. Top individual bowls with chives, chive blossoms, and a tiny drizzle of oil, if desired.

Serves 2 – 4

Printable Recipe

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