BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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True Blue Summer

As the summer growing period reaches a crescendo, the sheer abundance is enough to make me giddy, tearing through mile-high stacks of tomatoes with abandon. Fresh produce flooding markets near and far, a riot of colors and shapes adorn farm stand shelves as far as the eye can see, and everything looks good enough to eat. It feels silly to crave more in light of such abundance, yet I can’t help but yearn for the local specialties so precious and so fragile that they never see mainstream distribution. Though less exotic than some prime picks, the Frozen Wild Blueberries from Maine are the first things that come to mind. It’s harvest time up north, and the good news is that everyone, not just New Englanders, can enjoy those tiny blue jewels because much of the crop is flash frozen within 24 hours of picking, locking in both taste and nutrients at the peak of perfection.

Uncompromising standards of production mean that Frozen Wild Blueberries are some of the rare treats available all year long in any grocery store’s freezer case. Don’t let that luxury lure you into a false sense of complacency, though- Now is the time to act! Make the most of prime seasonal pairings to bring out the best flavors nature can create. Perhaps not the most obvious couple in the culinary spectrum, blueberries and corn are truly a match made in summertime heaven. Starting with ingredients so perfect to begin with, it doesn’t take much to draw out their best qualities in any recipe. Especially when it comes to Frozen Wild Blueberries, there’s no gamble as far as quality is concerned; every bag contains the same sweetness and complexity as you would get right off the bush, no matter where or when you eat them.

Built upon a tender crumb containing both blue cornmeal and whole, roasted corn kernels pureed to a silky-smooth consistency, this cake isn’t any old cornbread with frosting. Softer, sweeter, and infinitely more luscious, even the most hesitant taste testers were won over after a single bite. Truth be told, I only managed to sneak in a few forkfuls myself, fighting for a taste before the entire assembly was devoured before my very eyes. Frozen Wild Blueberries really pack in the flavor in both the jammy compote filling and creamy frosting, managing an intensity that larger, watery berries could only dream of.

There has never been a better time to indulge than right now. Whether it’s the cake that all the neighbors will buzz about for the Labor Day block party, or just a treat that brightened up the back-to-school blues, I can think of no greater grand finale to celebrate the end of summer.

Summer Blues Layer Cake

Blue Corn Cake:

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Blue Cornmeal
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Roasted or Grilled Sweet Corn Kernels (From About 2 Ears)
3/4 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Olive Oil

Wild Blueberry Compote Filling:

10 Ounces (About 2 Cups) Frozen Wild Blueberries
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch

Cooked Wild Blueberry Frosting:

5 Ounces (About 1 Cup) Frozen Wild Blueberries
About 1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and pepper. Whisk lightly to aerate and combine.

Pull out your blender or food processor and place the shucked corn kernels in the canister, along with the coconut milk. Blend on high speed, pausing to scrape down the sides as needed, until the corn is completely pureed and perfectly smooth. Add in the non-dairy milk, vinegar, and oil, and pulse to combine.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, mixing with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together. It’s fine to leave a few lumps, as long as there are no big pockets of flour remaining. Divide the resulting batter equally between your prepared cake pans, smoothing out the tops with your spatula before sliding them onto the middle rack in your oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the centers cake comes out clean.

Cool completely before assembling the cake.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by combining the Frozen Wild Blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in small saucepan over medium heat. Allow the Frozen Wild Blueberries to thaw and become juicy, bringing the liquid to boil and stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil steadily until the berries have burst and the mixture is thickened, stirring occasionally and mashing berries roughly with fork, for about 8 – 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, and chill thoroughly before using; at least 30 minutes.

For the frosting, toss the Frozen Wild Blueberries into your blender or food processor and thoroughly puree. Pass the smooth puree through a fine mesh strainer to catch any remaining pieces, pressing hard to extract all of the liquid, and discard the solids. Measure the resulting seedless puree and add enough non-dairy milk to equal 1 cup total. Place the mixture in a medium sauce pan, along with the cornstarch and salt. Whisk vigorously to dissipate any lumps of starch before turning on the heat to medium. Continue whisking gently until the mixture thickens and large bubbles begin to break on the surface. This won’t take very long since it’s a small amount of liquid, so don’t walk away! It takes mere seconds for it to scorch miserably on the bottom. Let cool to room temperature, and then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Move the whole pot into your fridge to chill thoroughly- This should take about 1 – 2 hours.

Once the thickened blueberry mixture is completely chilled, place the margarine and sugar (yes, granulated! Do not try using confectioner’s here) in the bowl of your stand mixer, and cream together until homogenous. Don’t rush this step, as thorough creaming ensures that the sugar granules actually dissolve into the frosting; Allow a solid 3 – 5 minutes here, depending on how cold the margarine is. Finally, add the cooled blueberry mix into the bowl, along with the lemon zest and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, and whip on high speed until the frosting is smooth, creamy, and fluffy. Again, patience is key, so give it time and you will be rewarded!

To assemble, level off the tops of your cake layers by slicing off any domed humps with a serrated knife. Once flat, place one layer on your serving plate or pedestal of choice. Evenly smooth the cooked blueberry compote all over, leaving about 1 cm of cake uncovered around the borders. When you place the next layer on top, it will likely push some of the jammy filling outwards, so you want to prevent it from running over the sides. After the second layer is secured in place, apply your frosting liberally to the top, smearing it outwards and down the sides. Pipe decorative borders and garnish with additional blueberries, if desired.

Makes 14 – 20 Servings

Printable Recipe

This post was written for and is sponsored by Wild Blueberries, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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Do You Believe In Magic?

Imagining them as the product of sorcery or witchcraft does a disservice to the whole concept of magic bars. Rather, the creation of such enchanting treats ought to be considered as kitchen alchemy, no less miraculous than an otherworldly spell.

How else could one explain the process of turning what appear to be discordant ingredients into this classic layered assembly of cookies, chocolate, nuts, and coconut? Especially when the process demands little more effort than what’s required to switch on the oven, it strikes me as a particularly bewitching sort of everyday magic. Of course, the original cast of characters is fairly mundane, in need of a new rising star and fresh script. Inspired by the play on words, black magic lured me over to the dark side for this delicious twist.

Blackberry puree, spiked with a touch of lime and vanilla, cloaks my supernatural sweets in fresh, seasonal berry flavor. Supported by a dark, devious crust of chocolate cookies rather than the standard graham crackers, the bars take on a high-contrast color scheme to better match their title, not to mention add a bolder bite.

Treading that fine line between crumbly, crunchy, and even a bit chewy, the toothsome texture is only one of many reasons why this classic concept took hold so many years ago. What’s even more incredible is how little effort goes into whipping up a batch. From fridge to table in under and hour, they may truly seem like the product of some black magic.

Black Magic Cookie Bars

1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Finely Ground Chocolate Cookie Crumbs
1 Cup (5 Ounces) Fresh Blackberries
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1 1/2 Teaspoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Lime Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2/3 Cup Unsweetened, Shredded Coconut
1/2 Cup Chopped Raw Walnuts or Pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together the chocolate cookie crumbs and melted margarine or coconut oil so that the whole mixture is nicely moistened. Transfer to your prepared baking pan and use the flat bottom of a measuring cup or drinking glass to firmly press the crumbs down in an even layer. Place in the fridge to chill while you prepare the remaining layers.

Place the blackberries and lime juice in your blender or food processor, and thoroughly puree, until the berries are are smooth as your machine can manage. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing down hard on the pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the seeds.

Mix the resulting seedless blackberry puree, sugar, cornstarch, arrowroot, lime zest, vanilla and salt together, and pour over your chilled crust. Evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts over the top, gently pressing all the goodies in to ensure that they stick.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the berries mixture bubbles up slightly around the sides and the coconut on top appears to have toasted to a golden brown hue. Cool completely before cutting into bars or squares. Store covered at room temperature for up to four days.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe


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Shell Game

Maybe it’s the heat, or maybe it’s the sun. Maybe it’s just the general summer attitude that’s disrupted the typical work routine, but focused, inspired opportunities to write have been far and few between. Grasping desperately for words that are sufficient at best and cramming them into confused, awkward prose, the irony of speaking at BlogHer PathFinder Day about becoming a published author is not lost on me. When there’s so much to share, from photos to recipes to review and beyond, but no words to tie them all together into one neat, professional package, what’s a blogger to do?

Surely you can relate. You might not be a blogger or a writer at all, but this frustrating state is universally understood across all disciplines, even amongst those terrifically passionate in their chosen field. An abundance of material sits unexplored, despite best intentions. Not even carefully laid plans could create a concise schedule when the words simply won’t flow.

These “lazy days” of summer have never been busier or more fulfilling. Projects are never-ending, and for a workaholic like myself, it’s a dream come true. All I can do is keep going, relishing every moment, and trusting that the words will come sooner or later. That’s why it would be silly to keep waiting for the perfect story to sum up this latest recipe, withholding something so delicious until its forgotten at the bottom of my archives. That analogy is rather fitting, however, since these vegan scallops became buried underneath bags of frozen vegetables and pints of ice cream, far into the depths of the freezer, all for lack of that “perfect” preparation. Instead of fearing that I couldn’t do these rare savory morsels justice, it was high time to just make what sounded best in that moment. And you know what? It was a decision that turned out pretty close to perfection after all.

Spurred on by my mother’s memories of Coquilles St. Jacques, my interpretation came out naturally lighter, brighter, and tastier, in my entirely biased opinion. Still plenty rich, a buttery base of mushrooms and shallot lend depth to the seafood-free scallop, elevating it beyond the standard cream sauce approach. A tangy splash of lemon and and subtly herbaceous parsley round out the flavor profile, ensuring that the last bite is every bit as irresistible as the first. There’s no shame in licking your plate here, especially if it’s a ceramic scallop shell. That could easily be chalked up to enjoying an “authentic” scallop experience.

Coquilles St. Jacques, Re-Imagined and Revitalized

2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Divided
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Package Sophie’s Kitchen Lightly Breaded Vegan Scallops
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Large Shallot, Minced
8 Ounces Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Minced
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Dry White Wine
1 Teaspoon All Purpose Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, Finely Minced
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

Heat 1 tablespoon each of the margarine and oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Once the margarine has melted, carefully place the scallops in a single layer on the pan. Don’t try to move or flip them for at least 6 – 8 minutes, to achieve a better sear. If they still appear to be sticking and look pale on the bottoms, let them continue to cook, undisturbed for up to 5 additional minutes. When the undersides are nicely browned, give them a single flip over to the opposite side, drizzle with lemon juice, and saute until similarly golden. Transfer the scallops to a plate and set aside.

Return the empty pan to the heat and add in the remaining margarine and oil. Gently saute the shallot for 2 – 3 minutes, until translucent and aromatic, before stirring in the mushrooms. Cook over medium-low heat until tender; about 5 minutes. Stir together the almond milk, wine, and flour, beating out any potential clumps, and pour the mixture into the pan. Simmer gently for 10 – 12 minutes, until thickened and creamy. Stir in the tarragon and parsley, and finally season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon a small mound of the mushroom mixture onto each serving dish and top with 3 – 4 scallops each. Serve right away while still hot.

Makes 4 Appetizer-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe


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Sweet Relief

National Ice Cream Day, decreed to fall on the third Sunday of July, couldn’t have come at a better time. Still grappling with a week-long heat wave that stubbornly refuses to break or bend, keeping cool is the top priority for anyone living on the east coast. Though always a favorite treat no matter the weather, my appetite for ice cream really kicks into high gear during the dog days of summer, and this year’s sweltering forecast has prompted the same hunger to return with a vengeance.

Well over a year has passed since Vegan a la Mode was published, and yet I can’t stop churning up new flavors. Case in point, the Peach Pie Ice Cream pictured above was inspired by the abundance of explosively ripe stone fruits sitting on the kitchen counter, combined with my new focus on pies. Tender fragments of buttery pie crust are tossed in cinnamon and sugar before being baked to an even golden-brown. Nestled in between lashings of gooey peach jam, each scoopful of peach ice cream tastes like a creamier, cooler version of its namesake. Don’t wait until the next heat wave to add this refreshing yet decadent dessert to you to-do list: Grab the recipe on GoDairyFree.org and start churning as soon as your peaches are ripe!


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Berry Curious

It just might be the greatest berry you’ve never heard of. Limited to very small regions of Europe and North America, the Jostaberry is a specialty fruit that you won’t find in supermarkets any time soon. Delicate to a fault, they’re difficult enough to pick by hand without crushing or bruising. Unsurprisingly, no machines have been invented to make them a commercially viable option. Moreover, their prime harvesting season passes in the blink of an eye, encompassing two weeks each July at the most. Perhaps this very elusive nature adds to their allure, but I’d wager that they’d fly off the shelves should they ever become as common as apples and oranges. Luck was simply on my side when I discovered that Lyman Orchards, supposedly the one and only source on the east coast, had them ripe for the picking.

In a class of their own, the Jostaberry is a cross between a black currant and a gooseberry, explaining some of their tart, slightly astringent qualities. Pronounced with a “Y” as a reflection of their German heritage, “Jostaberry” is a portmanteau that comes from a blend of Johannisbeere and Stachelbeere- The German words for both aforementioned varieties. When fully ripe, their sweetness develops further, blending in notes of blueberries, kiwis, and grapes, all into one tiny, juicy bite. Easily eaten out of hand, the real challenge is picking- and saving- enough to weave into recipes later. Their high pectin content makes them ideal for jams and jellies, but by the time I got back home from the fields, not even half the volume of berries I had intended for baking remained.

Jam was out of the question for this season, but my precious Jostaberries became the stars of the show inside classic crumb muffins instead. Moist and bursting with that unique berry flavor, it’s no secret that the muffins themselves are merely vehicles for consuming large clumps of the dark drupes at once. Moist, soft and lightly buttery, the surrounding batter provides a gently sweetened backdrop that allows the berries to take center stage. The only thing that might improve the combination is perhaps a quick jaunt through the toaster oven, followed by a thick smear of that jam I had dreamed about… But that pairing will just have to wait for the next limited harvest.

Jostaberry Crumb Muffins

Crumb Topping:

1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour Flour
1/3 Cup Almond Meal
1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Oil

Jostaberry Muffins:

1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Medium, Ripe Banana
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Water
1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Oil
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Heaping Cup Jostaberries

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and either lightly grease or line 12 standard muffin cups with papers.

Prepare the topping first by stirring together the brown sugar, flour, and almond meal in a small bowl. Drizzle in the melted coconut oil while mixing with a fork, until all of the crumbs are moistened and sticking together in coarse clumps. Set aside.

For the body of the muffins, pull out your blender or food processor, and toss in the sugar, banana, lemon juice, and water. Thoroughly puree, until completely smooth, before adding in the melted coconut oil, non-dairy milk, and vanilla extract. Blend once more to fully incorporate.

Sift the flour into a large bowl along with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add in the jostaberries and toss to coat with the dry goods, which will help prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins while baking. Pour the liquids from your blender into the bowl, and stir lightly with a wide spatula, just to combine. Don’t go crazy about getting out every last lump; a bit of unevenness is just fine.

Equally distribute your batter between your 12 prepared muffin cups, mounding them up slightly towards the center, and then do the same for the crumb topping. It may seem like a whole lot of crumb, but don’t be shy and pile it on! Bake for 5 minutes, and then without opening the oven, reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for an additional 13 – 16 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let cool completely before enjoying.

Makes 12 Muffins

Printable Recipe


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Ripe for the Picking

Bursting with juice and teetering on the very edge of over-ripening, these ruby gems tumble off their vines effortlessly. Raining into waiting cardboard pints and open mouths, each edible jewel tastes like the summer sun itself. There is nothing I’d rather do on a warm July morning than lose myself in the meditative process of picking raspberries. Hours later, I’ll emerge berry-stained and stuffed, rich with a truly fruitful bounty.

Click on the photo to view it full size, and help yourself if you’d like to save it as a desktop wallpaper. Simply right click, select “Set as Desktop Background,” and choose either the “Fill” or “Stretch” option to properly fill your screen.

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