BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Precious Peaches

Summer isn’t over until the peaches are picked, but harvesting is only half of the matter. It might be nothing short of heresy to suggest dressing up the fleeting and scarce supply of fuzzy stone fruits, considering how easy it is to eat even a peck of peaches out of hand.  Nothing beats a perfectly ripe peach, still gently warmed from the sun, savored in fading sunlight while the sticky juices run down your arm. A reward for a hard day’s work, but also a mandatory seasonal experience, fresh peaches need no further enhancement to win over gourmets the world around. We all agree on this, right? So we could stop right here and leave perfectly satisfied, bellies full of unadulterated peaches.

But then we couldn’t share this lightly spiced, tender cake, jam-packed with vibrant peach flavor, could we?

Unfailingly, the sight of such a stunning but simple cake is enough to change the minds of the most staunch peach purists. Reducing the puree down by half concentrates their best qualities and makes the cake’s crumb melt-in-your-mouth tender. Dotted with crisp pecans and topped off with a full blanket of the crunchy nuts, the additional sprinkle of sugar is really just for looks, since the single round layer is perfectly sweet as is.

As summer fades, the peaches too will be left in the past, a bittersweet memory to cling to until the next year. Rather than turn the remaining stash into jam, try baking them into this moist, single layer for an exceptionally tempting treat instead. Sliced and well-wrapped, the cake can be frozen and enjoyed long into the fall and possibly even winter- If you can leave it alone for such a stretch of time, of course.

I never did know when to leave well enough alone. The poor stone fruits never had a chance, no matter how delectable straight from the trees. Maybe another slice of cake might help absolve me for the sin of messing with those perfect peaches.

Southern Peach Cake

Peach Cake:

6 Ripe Peaches
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
2 Cups White Whole Wheat or All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
2 Tablespoons Bourbon or Rum*
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Pecan Topping:

1 Cup Raw Pecan Halves
1 Tablespoon Turbinado Sugar

*Poorly stocked liquor cabinet or simply seeking a non-alcoholic option? Substitute 2 tablespoons of water and 1/2 teaspoon rum extract instead.

Pit and puree the peaches along with the lemon juice, and transfer the smooth mixture to a medium saucepan. Gently simmer over medium-low heat until reduced by half. You should end up with approximately 1 1/3 cups of concentrated peach puree when all is said and done. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease and flour a 9-inch round springform pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Add in the chopped pecans, and toss lightly to coat. This will help prevent the nuts from sinking to the bottom of the cake while baking.

Separately, whisk together the reduced and cooled peach puree, both sugars, oil, bourbon, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour these liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and mix gently with a wide spatula, just until the batter comes together smoothly. Don’t over-mix; a few small lumps are fine to leave in the mixture.

Spread the batter in your prepared pan, smoothing it evenly across the whole area, and sprinkle the raw pecans all over the top. Finally, sprinkle the turbindo sugar on as well, taking care to fill any of the uncovered crevasses between the nuts especially.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the nuts on top are nicely toasted, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Makes 10 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Summer Rain

Heat and humidity build over the course of a standard summer day, until it feels as though you’re being smothered with a damp towel every time you set foot outside. Relief comes only when the sky finally breaks open and beats the flames back with a soothing spray of warm raindrops. Thunder rumbles with the gentle vibrations of someone talking in low tones, easily lulling the listener to sleep at night. When morning comes, a few remaining water droplets remain, clinging dearly to leaves and grass. The air is the fresh and new again, until that familiar heaviness grows once more.

Click to view full size. If you’d like to save it as your new wallpaper, simply right click, select “Set as Desktop Background,” and choose the “Stretch” option to properly fill any computer screen.


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Minty Fresh

Sparse vines reach weakly upward towards the sunlight filtering in between the thick blanket of leaves above, gently yellowing despite their youth. Choked out by the tall trees overhead that greedily suck down all the rich solar nutrition, our fragile, immature tomato plants never had a chance. Careful weeding and daily watering be damned- Not a drop of those efforts show. For reasons unknown, this will be our worst harvest ever, if you can even call it a “harvest.” It would be a joy to pull even a solitary ripe, red orb from those sagging knots of greenery, but I’m not so optimistic about even that kind of yield.

While I can only look on with envy as friends effortlessly produce vegetables of all colors and shapes from their own backyard gardens, I have but one tiny success to brag about: The mint. Known for being aggressively prolific, spreading like a weed and reseeding itself for years to come, ours finally broke the curse of our sad patch of dirt and actually followed suit. Sprouting and outgrowing the small patch originally allotted to them, the herbaceous leaves now cover nearly half of the paltry expanse, growing like a full, unruly mane of hair, much in need of a trim. And so, with no vegetables to temper my enthusiasm, trim I did.

After batches of mint chocolate sorbet, mint tea, and minted snow peas, the mint still kept coming with no end in sight. Fully confident that the supply would not run short, I went for the gusto and gathered as much as I could before the rainclouds above burst once again, snipping off every viable leaf to make up a fresh take on pesto. Before that quick spread could even finish whirling about the blades of the food processor, I already had a full recipe planned out to put it to work.

Borrowing from a Middle Eastern palate of flavors for inspiration, pomegranate proved to be a perfectly tangy match to this bright and herbaceous paste. Not only do the crunchy arils make an appearance to lend textural contrast, but the foundation of the salad itself, chewy pearls of Israeli couscous, are cooked in pure pomegranate juice as well. Cool, crisp cucumbers punctuate the mixture, lightening the whole dish considerably- And because, as we’ve established, I can’t go a single summer day without getting my cucumber fix.

Even if you don’t have ground cover of mint threatening to take over your entire yard, it’s well worth the effort to forage through the farmer’s market to make the pesto, if not the whole couscous salad. Consider tossing it into potato salad, spread it over crostini, or pack it into sandwiches. The recipe makes enough for leftovers, so you can easily spare enough explore all those delicious options, and then some.

Pomegranate Mint Couscous

Mint Pesto:

1/4 Cup Roasted, Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
1 – 2 Cloves Garlic
1 Teaspoon White Miso
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
2 Cups Loosely Packed Mint Leaves
1/2 Cup Loosely Packed Basil Leaves
1/4 Cup Flax or Hemp Seed Oil
Big Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Salt, to Taste

In a food processor, pulse the sunflower seeds and garlic lightly to break them down a bit, and add in the miso and lemon zest to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and introduce the mint and basil. Pulse again to incorporate, and then with the machine running, stream in the oil. Puree until mostly smooth but still slightly coarse in texture, and season with cayenne and salt to taste. Use right away, or store in airtight container in the fridge. The mint pesto can be made ahead of time refrigerated for up to a week.

Makes About 3/4 Cup

Pomegranate Couscous Salad:

2 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Dry Israeli Couscous
1/2 Cup Frozen or Fresh Green Garbanzo Beans, or Frozen Green Peas
1/3 Cup Mint Pesto (See Recipe Above)
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil, if Needed
1 Cup Diced Seedless Cucumber
1/2 Cup Pomegranate Arils
Pinch Ground Black Pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the pomegranate juice and salt to a boil. Add in the couscous, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the green garbanzo beans or peas while the pasta is still hot, thawing or gently cooking the beans with the residual heat. Transfer to a large bowl, and thoroughly mix in the pesto. Add in the oil if needed to loosen up the pesto and more evenly distribute it throughout. Toss in the cucumber, arils, and season with pepper to taste. Stir well, and chill thoroughly before serving.

Makes 6 – 8 Side Servings

Printable Recipe


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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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The Ultimate Ice-Breaker

You may not yet find the VegNews July/August 2012 issue on newsstands or in your mailbox, but because advance issues are now available online, I see that as free rein to start talking about it. Honestly, I can’t help myself- The summer edition is always a joy to work on, now that fresh fruits and vegetables are flooding back into stores, and every recipe sounds equally compelling. Best of all, it means I can bust out the frozen and chilled treats like there’s no tomorrow, better suited to tempering the summer sun than any blast of artificial air conditioning. Returning triumphantly with my thrice annual column, this sweet idea is one grand finale that will beat the pants off of picnic fruit salads and watery popsicles.

Key Lime Icebox Cake, complete with dozens of crunchy macadamia-flecked cookies and a tropical coconut and citrus creme. A single towering cake feeds a crowd with ease, and is best after sitting in the chill chest for at least a day, so advance prep makes it an ideal party guest. It’s the dessert that friends and family will be talking about long after the crowds go home and the summer sun goes back into hibernation. Yes, it’s that good.

It shouldn’t be long now before the issue officially lands, so you may as well start clearing space for this cake in your fridge right now!


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Last Call for Blueberries

I’m usually not one for either making or hosting guest posts, but when the Beantown Baker invited me over to her blog to share a bit of my work, I could hardly refuse. So, for today’s recipe, go check it out over in the Friday Favorites section.  You don’t want to miss this one- Marbled Blueberry Bundt Cake to finish off the berry season! Here’s just a small taste…

Slim pickings. Literally, that’s what we found after embarking on our much-anticipated annual blueberry picking adventure. We’re spoiled with riches of wild raspberries all across our county, but blueberries? Those round, sweet gems are a bit harder to come by, and even the farms were sorely lacking this year. After being turned away due to poor picking conditions once already, we were determined not to go home empty handed yet again.

Arriving near the tail-end of their growing season, it’s reasonable to expect a less than bountiful harvest, but this was downright pitiful. Shriveled, grey berries remained where they once blossomed and were forgotten, while others had over-ripened to the point of bursting, like weak balloons filled with shaving cream. Regardless, with a bit of careful, diligent plucking, there were still enough berries to fill a small bucket, and satisfy the peckish picker, of course.


The effort, though more demanding than usual, was rewarded by modest heap of fresh, juicy blueberries, far more flavorful than anything store bought. After hungrily wolfing down about half of our plunder whole and plain, I was itching to make more of this seasonal treasure. Colorful filling to sandwich cookies started the wheels in motion, but I wanted more; something seriously blueberry-filled, rich and ripe.

Cake, the universal party centerpiece, fit the bill with ease. More of a simple tea cake or even breakfast treat, white whole wheat flour contributes a more hearty texture, without any overbearing wheat flavor. Touches of lemon brighten up the soft and tender bundt, although orange could also be a delightful accent instead. Though it may sound unremarkable on paper, trust me, the cut slices are anything but ordinary.

Marbled in striking blue and golden tones, this easy yet stunning dessert is like summer condensed into cake form. Now that the days have begun to cool off considerably, a warm oven is a welcome thing again, and there’s never been a better time to bake with blueberries. Handpicked berries or not, this is one recipe that’s sure to make repeat appearances in kitchen, many times over.

Marbled Blueberry Bundt Cake

3 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
2 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
2/3 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
1 cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

1 1/2 Cups Blueberries, Divided
1 Teaspoon Fresh Lemon Juice

1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest

Lemon Syrup:

3 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Cup Granulated Sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease and flour a 10-cup capacity bundt pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and sugar. Separately, mix the olive oil, “yogurt,” non-dairy milk, vinegar, and vanilla to combine. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and with a wide spatula, fold the two together just until you achieve a fairly smooth batter. A few lumps are just fine; be careful not to over-mix. Divide the batter equally into two parts, pouring half off into a separate bowl.

Turning your attention now to the blueberries, toss 1 cup of them into your blender or food processor, along with the lemon juice. Thoroughly puree, until smooth but still with their naturally rough, slightly seedy texture intact. Add the blended berries into one of the bowls of batter, along with the remaining 1/2 cup of whole blueberries, and stir well to fully incorporate.

With a clean spatula, mix the lemon zest into the other bowl of batter until distributed throughout.

Lay down a thin layer of the blueberry batter in small dollops along the bottom of your prepared bundt pan. Top that with a ribbon of the lemon batter; it’s fine if it doesn’t entirely cover, but do your best to keep them neat and even. Repeat as many times as possible, until you run out of batter. Take a spatula and swirl it through the whole assemblage ONLY ONCE to create a neat but discernible swirl throughout the cake.

Move the whole bundt into the center of your oven, and bake for 60 – 70 minutes, until a wooden dowel inserted into the center of the cake pulls out clean. Let cool completely in the pan, and then turn out on a wire rack.

To finish the cake off, a thin glaze of lemon syrup is a nice touch to keep everything moist. Simply place both the lemon juice and sugar in a small sauce pan, and stir to combine. Heat over medium heat until the sugar has fully dissolved. Brush the syrup evenly over the whole bundt- Chances are you won’t need it all. (Save the extra for sweetening tea!) Slice and serve right away, or store it covered, in the fridge, for 4 – 5 days.

Serves 12 – 14

Printable Recipe


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All the News That’s Fit to Veg

No longer hot off the presses but still just as pertinent, I’m only just flipping through to the final pages of the May/June 2011 issue of VegNews. So thickly layered with juicy tidbits about vegan weddings, travels, and newsworthy items, along with the usual enticement of new recipes, this is not one to rush through. If you did, you would risk missing such ideal summer party nibbles as the Sardinian-Inspired Crostini:

Or perhaps that spicy little Asian-fusion number, the Korean Tacos with Pear-Cilantro Slaw:

Which I can testify, are every bit as distinctively delicious as they look.

In light of the recent VegNews stock photo scandal, I feel that it’s necessary for me to clarify a few things here. I for one am glad that issue was brought to light, because things will only get better from here. Mistakes were made, acknowledged, and hopefully corrected. Moving forward, VegNews has pledged to use only vegan photos, and always accurate photos for the recipes published, so it sounds like a win-win situation if there ever was one. Better yet, you can rest assured that many of those recipe photos, such as those above, will be coming from my kitchen and my camera, so you can feel confident that you’re getting the real deal- no bull.

And of course, you can still expect my column every other issue, so prepare yourself for a serious sugar rush in the upcoming July/August issue… It’s gonna be a scream!

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