BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes

When it comes to the divide between sweet and savory, the line that separates the two is becoming thinner and more difficult to distinguish with every passing year. Palates are opening up, eaters from all walks of life are growing more adventurous, and chefs are gleefully pursuing their wildest culinary dreams. Such reckless innovation inevitably comes at a price, paid in disappointing or sometimes downright repulsive new tastes (I’m looking at you, cappuccino potato chips) but it’s a gamble well worth taking. In a world with such a vast array of flavors, there must still be countless winning combinations merely waiting to be discovered.

In my eyes, this one wasn’t such a stretch of the imagination. Tomato soup cakes have been around since the turn of the century as a thrifty way of making something sweet in the times of rationing. Originally dubbed “mystery cake” as a way of concealing the secret ingredient, perhaps acknowledging that unwitting diners might be scared off by the novel concept, the processed tomato product was merely an extender, filling in the bulk of the cake without using eggs, only to be covered up in heavy gingerbread-like spices. You’d never know there was ever a tomato present in the tender crumb, which is both the beauty and tragedy of this classic recipe.

Taking inspiration from these humble origins but with the desire to celebrate the bold, beautiful tomatoes now in season rather than bury them in an avalanche of sugar, it seemed high time to revisit the idea of a tomato cake. Now with 100% more tomato flavor! I can just picture the vintage advertisements and their hyperactive proclamations now.

Indeed, you can truly taste the tomato in these fiery red cupcakes. Not only that, but the unassuming beige frosting holds yet another surprise taste sensation: A tangy punch of balsamic vinegar, tempered by the sweetness of the rich and fluffy matrix that contains it. Trust me, it’s one of those crazy things that you’ve just got to taste to believe. Although it may sound like an edible acid burn, that small splash is just enough to brighten up the whole dessert.

While tomatoes are still at their peak, sweet as ever and available in abundance, now is the time to experiment and try something new. Don’t call it a secret ingredient this time around and finally let them shine when the dessert course rolls around.

Tomato Cakes with Balsamic Frosting

Tomato Cupcakes:

2 Cups Diced Fresh Tomatoes, Roughly Blended, or 1 14-Ounce Can Crushed Tomatoes
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed

1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Balsamic Frosting:

1/2 Cup Vegan Margarine
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Reduction
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Up to 1 Tablespoon Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 15 – 16 cupcake tins with papers.

Combine the blended (but not completely pureed) tomatoes, olive oil, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and set aside.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Make sure that all the dry goods are thoroughly distributed before adding in the wet ingredients. Mix everything together with a wide spatula, stirring just enough to bring the batter together and beat out any pockets of unincorporated dry ingredients. A few remaining lumps are just fine.

Distribute the batter between your prepared cupcake pans, filling them about 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 17 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly, with perhaps just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Do not wait for the tops to brown, because the centers will be thoroughly overcooked by then. Let cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, place the margarine in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat briefly to soften before adding in the confectioner’s sugar, balsamic glaze, and vanilla. Begin mixing on low speed until the sugar is mostly incorporated, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Turn the mixer up to high and slowly drizzle in non-dairy milk as needed to bring the whole mixture together. Continue whipping for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Apply to cupcakes as desired.

Makes 15 – 16 Cupcakes

Printable Recipe


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Feeling Saucy

Sauces are the unsung heroes of every meal. Quietly, selflessly, they accept their role as the supporting actors, and yet they’re often the most flavorful element in the whole production. The same old boring dishes can be reinvented with just a few small tweaks to the sauce, no further modifications necessary. Take, for instance, stuffed shells.

Plate provided by Steelite

A fool-proof formula of pasta, “cheese,” and tomato, the staples upon which Italian food is built. However, if I were to tell you that the pool of red sauce seen above was not a mere marinara, but one infused with lemongrass, ginger, and a bird’s eye chili, among other exotics, wouldn’t it up the ante for the average meal that much more? Proof positive that the magic is all in the sauce, the ordinary meal became something truly memorable with a small deviation from the norm. Creamy coconut milk helps to tame the burn of hot peppers, making a velvety but delightfully chunky red sauce that’s mellow enough for even those with more timid palates to enjoy. Rather than following the usual path for dinner, give the sauce some much-deserved attention next time, and see where it can take your meal.

Thai Spiced Marinara

2 Tablespoons Olive or Coconut Oil
1/2 Large Red Onion, Chopped (1 1/2 – 2 Cups)
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3/4 – 1 Inch Ginger, Minced (About 1 Heaping Tablespoon)
2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Lemongrass
1 Bird’s Eye Chili
2 Kaffir Lime Leaves, or 1 Strip of Lime Peel
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
1 1/2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 12-Ounce Jar Roasted Red Peppers, Rinsed and Drained (or 2 Roasted Peppers)
1 – 2 Tablespoons Red Curry Powder or Paste
1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce

Begin by heating the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add in the chopped onion, garlic, and ginger, and saute until the onion is translucent and the whole mixture is very aromatic. Allow the onion to take on a bit of brown color around the edges; about 10 – 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, gather together the lemongrass, chili, and kaffir lime leaves or lime zest, and bundle them together in a tea bag or reusable tea ball. I find that this makes it easier to remove these items once they’ve imparted all of their flavor into the sauce, rather than fishing around with a strainer and hoping you got all of the fibrous bits. Set aside for the time being.

Once the aromatics are beginning to brown, stir in the diced tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure that all of the flavorful caramelized bits get incorporated as well. Pour in the vegetable stock, and toss in the sealed tea bag or ball (if using a tea ball, clip it to the side of the pot for easier retrieval.)

Toss the roasted red peppers, coconut milk, curry powder or paste, and tamari into a blender, and thoroughly puree. Once perfectly smooth, pour the mixture into the stock pot as well. Bring everything up to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low so that the sauce simmers gently, uncovered. It may seem a bit watery now, but give it time; 60 – 90 minutes should thicken it up nicely.

Remove the tea bag or ball, and discard the contents. Serve the marinara hot, or let cool and store in an airtight container for up to 10 days.

Makes About 5 – 6 Cups Sauce

Printable Recipe


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Alone in the Kitchen

Eating alone is one thing- The act of scarfing down a sloppy assemblage of discordant ingredients while on the run, a quiet moment stolen away from a hectic schedule, shared only with a soothing bowl of soup and sandwich- Just a small, acceptable aspect of the modern world we must make peace with. Whether these meals are a respite or a terribly lonely hour are all in the eye of the beholder, or should I say, mouth of the eater. Cooking alone, in my opinion is an entirely different subject though. When you make the conscious effort to cook something from scratch, taking into consideration exactly what you want to feed yourself with, it’s a far more meditative, nourishing experience than merely grabbing a solo bite between meetings.

It looks different for everyone, but eating alone for me means a bowl of cereal for dinner or reheated leftovers. Cooking alone, at least in the winter, means rich curries packed full of vegetables, hearty soups enriched with miso and nutritional yeast (vegan catnip, from my point of view), or red sauce, enriched with thick, creamy coconut milk and vodka.

A perfectly balanced dinner, it is not, but sometimes it’s the less healthy option that’s better for your soul. Rather than mope over previously picked over scraps, while away the night time hours by myself, I poured myself into making a simple vodka sauce, tending the pot while listening to music and allowing the savory scent of stewed tomatoes fill the entire house. Smooth, with a few chunks of diced tomatoes for a more satisfying texture, vodka sauce is a favorite that isn’t indulged in very often around here. More than anything else, this recipe is an effort in self-editing. Resist the urge to throw in garlic (Yes, must fight the temptation, at least the first time you try it!), keep the fancy herbs at bay, and stick to the basics. Time is the best seasoning in this case, so approach this sauce with plenty of patience in stock. Top it all off with a fine chiffonade of fresh basil if you absolutely must, but that’s it!

Pasta, that simple, starchy comfort food, naturally makes the best sort of base. Go for something tube-shaped to catch and hold on to all that creamy crimson goodness, and if you must pretend like you’re eating healthily, go ahead and toss in some chickpeas or baked tofu for protein.

With the scent of my carefully tended vodka sauce wrapping around me like a thick, soft blanket on a cold night, just like that, I didn’t feel so alone when it came time to eat.

Coconut Vodka Sauce

1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Large Onion, Finely Minced
1 Cup Vodka
2 28-Ounce Cans Diced Tomatoes
1 14-Ounce Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute the onion in the melted coconut oil until softened and just beginning to take on a brown color. De-glaze with the vodka, stir well, and let cook for 10 minutes. Mix in canned tomatoes, juice and all, and bring the mixture up to a rapid bubble. Reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the sauce at a steady, low simmer, and cook for another 30 minutes. Pour in coconut milk and cook for a final 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, but be generous with both. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender and puree, or hit it with the immersion blender until it reaches your desired consistency. Be sure to leave it slightly chunky.

Serve while hot, or store in an air-tight container in the fridge after cooling, for up to a week.

Makes About 2 Quarts

Printable Recipe


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Winners of Books and Breads

Selected by the wise and all-knowing random number generator, today’s pick for who will receive a copy of the Green Market Baking Book is…

The comment belonging to the 11th poster, who happens to be…

VeggieGirl! This gal has definitely got luck on her side, because if I’m not mistaken, this is actually the second giveaway she’s won from this little blog. Stick around as long as she has though, and you’d have a pretty good chance of hitting the jackpot, too. That first win came around 3 or 4 years ago, so she’s certainly been in it for the long haul. Congrats on win #2!

There are no losers here though, because I have a fantastic treat to share with everyone else. Even if you aren’t getting the full cookbook today, you’ll be able to bake your very own tomato bread!

Since it generated the greatest interest, I thought that everyone should have this recipe to share. It really is a winner, and with my small modifications, one that will visit my kitchen many times more.

Tomato Bread
Adapted from Green Market Baking Book © 2011 by Laura C. Martin, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Recipe by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan
[My alterations in italics]

1/2 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Chopped
1 15-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cups) Tomato Sauce
4 Cups Bread Flour, Plus additional as needed
2 Tablespoons Active Dry Yeast
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Plus Additional for Bowl


To make the dough

First, soak the sun-dried tomato pieces in just enough hot water to cover, for about 15 minutes, until softened.

1. Mix the yeast with the tomato sauce and let the mixture stand about 5 minutes, or until it starts to bubble.
2. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine half the bread flour with the tomato mixture and salt, and mix to form a smooth batter. Blend in the olive oil.
3. Change the mixer attachment to the dough hook. With the hook in motion, add the soaked sun-dried tomatoes along with the remaining bread flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough forms into a rough mass that easily pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

To make a loaf

1. Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Place the covered bowl in a warm, draft-free spot and let it rise about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.
2. Butter a 9 × 5-inch loaf pan.
3. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a log that fits the pan. Place the dough into the pan and cover it with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let it rise until the dough reaches a half inch over the top of the pan (about 1 hour).
4. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
5. Bake for 35 minutes. If it appears to be browning too quickly after 20 minutes, place a foil tent over the top to prevent it from burning. Remove the bread from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 Loaf

Printable Recipe

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