BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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We Be Jammin’

Summer, no matter how long, hot, or dry, never overstays its welcome in my home. The season always ends up feeling shorter than the rest, abruptly cut off by the rude interruption of an autumnal cold snap, or forced to jump into the conversation late thanks to a long-winded spring shower. Every moment of warmth in between is savored, if not greedily seized, because it’s just never enough to satiate my cravings. While June, July, and August fly by, I’ve been known to mow through more fully grown watermelons than seems humanly possible, trying in vain to quench a never-ending thirst for both the fruit and the season itself. Cleaning up the wreckage after yet another destructive melon binge, I started thinking about what was left once the juicy pink flesh had been devoured. Surely, there was something better to do with all of that perfectly good rind than lay it to waste in the trash.

Meanwhile, another sort of refuse was piling up in considerable tonnage; cucumber peels, in all their green glory, suddenly seemed too precious to take for granted, much like the fleeting days of summer. Both leftovers possessed a uniquely refreshing, watery constitution, and were neutral enough to bend in either a sweet or savory direction with equal success. Surely, the two could join forces and become something much greater than their individual parts.

Jam is the answer. Cucumber-melon jam, a piece of the season preserved for months to come, without detracting from the immediate gratification of the fresh produce itself. The key for success is to make sure that every last piece of green skin is peeled away from the watermelon rind, since it’s tough and somewhat bitter- The one leftover element that’s only worth saving for the compost heap. Simple and vibrant, the combination could also pair beautifully with a handful of fresh mint, or even basil for a more unconventional approach.

From trash to treasure, rinds and peels haven’t been given their fare share of the culinary spotlight, but I think it’s about time to change all that. One taste of this sweet, simple condiment, and you’ll never be able to justify throwing away the excavated shell of another watermelon ever again.

Cucumber-Melon Jam

1/3 Pound Cucumber Peels
1/2 Cup Water
2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
4 Teaspoons Calcium Water*
1 1/2 Pounds Watermelon Rind, Peeled and Chopped
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
4 Teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin Powder
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Paste or Extract

Before you begin, prepare the calcium water. To do so, combine 1/4 teaspoon calcium powder (the small packet included in the box of Pomona’s pectin) with 1/4 cup water in a small container with a lid. Shake well to dissolve. Leftover calcium water can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Place the cucumber peels, water, lemon juice, and calcium water in your blender and thoroughly puree. Once smooth, add in the prepared watermelon rind and blend on a moderate speed. Depending on your textural preferences, puree the mixture until completely smooth, or leave it slightly chunky. Both approaches are equally tasty!

Transfer the liquid base to a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat on the stove. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar and pectin powder. Bring the liquids up to a boil before adding in the sugar mixture, stirring vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve the pectin while the jam comes back up to a boil. Once it returns to a vigorous bubble, stir in the vanilla, remove from the heat and pour into 4 or 5 clean half-pint glass jars. Simply let cool and seal with an air-tight lid to make “freezer jam” which will keep in the fridge for about a month, or follow these suggestions to properly can the jam and put it up for about a year.

Makes 4 – 5 Cups

Printable Recipe


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Cashew Cache

In honor of labor day and what might be summer’s last hurrah, the only suitable recipe to share would have to be one cool customer, unencumbered by complex procedures or obscure ingredients. Luckily, I have just the dish to fit that bill.

Step away from the stove! Raw, vegetable-based noodles are the key to beating the heat and simultaneously lightening up this satisfying savory treat. Delicate strands of carrots and cucumbers mingle together in crisp tangles of “pasta,” as vibrant as they are flavorful. Inspired by classic cold sesame noodles, the Chinese takeout staple has graced my table countless times but never in such a fresh format.

Cashew butter takes the spotlight for this round, adding a unique nuance to the nutty, lightly spiced sauce. Deceptively simple in composition, it doesn’t sound like anything particularly special on paper, but one taste and you’ll be hooked on that creamy cashew elixir, lavishing it over everything from salads to grilled tofu and beyond. Although you may end up with more than you need for this particular dish, trust me: It won’t be a struggle to polish off the excess in short order.

Carrot Cashew Noodles

Cashew Sauce:

6 Tablespoons Smooth Cashew Butter
1/3 Cup Vegetable Broth
2 Tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos or Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Clove Fresh Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Grated
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Sriracha

Carrot Pasta:

5 Large Carrots, Peeled and Shredded with a Julienne Peeler or Spiralizer
1 English Cucumber, Peeled and Shredded with a Julienne Peeler or Spiralizer
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/3 Cup Toasted Cashews, Roughly Chopped

This dish comes together very quickly and doesn’t keep particularly well once assembled, so make sure you’re good and hungry before you begin!

Start by preparing the sauce. Place the cashew butter in a medium-sized bowl and slowly add the vegetable broth, stirring constantly to loosen and smooth out the thick paste. Simply add the remaining ingredients, whisk thoroughly until homogeneous, and set aside. Kept separately in an air-tight container, the sauce should keep in the fridge for 1 – 2 weeks.

To finish the dish, toss together the carrot and cucumber noodles and begin by adding about half of the sauce. It may be difficult to combine everything with tongs or a spatula, so don’t be afraid to get in there and mix it up with your hands. Add more sauce as needed (don’t forget that carrots and cucumbers come in all different sizes, so your mileage my vary), incorporate the scallions, and toss to combine.

Move the mixture out onto a serving plate, top with chopped cashews, and enjoy!

Makes 2 – 3 Main Dish Servings; 4 – 5 Side Dish Servings

Printable Recipe


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Silent Saturday: Leftovers from Austin

(As I begin packing my bags for the next great adventure, it’s becoming clear that if I don’t share the last roundup of photos from my time in Texas now, I probably never will. There are still many more photos from my time in the “friendship state”- If you’re interested in seeing the full set, browse on over to my Flickr album.)

Vegan Breakfast Platter with Vanilla-Pecan Pancakes from Kerbey Lane Cafe

Garden Breakfast with Tofu Scramble from Bouldin Creek Cafe

Vegan ‘Harvey P’ Rueben from Shhmaltz

Beet Mushroom Walnut Burger from Counter Culture

Avocado Carpaccio and Black Bean Taco from Tyson’s Tacos

Vegan Crab Cakes with Smoked Vegetables from Lady Luck

The Classic Vegan Cheese Detroit-Style Pizza from Via 311

Spicy Veggie Prawns with Collard Greens from Nice-N-Ful

Cauliflower Steak with Curried Lentils and Caramelized Onions from Hyde Park Bar & Grill

Jackfruit BBQ Plate from Unity Vegan Kitchen


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Posole for the Soul

Just like the changing of the seasons themselves, the life cycle of a garden is predictable, yet invariably astonishing. It seems so improbable that such tiny seeds could ever be filled with life and produce edible fruit that it truly takes me by surprise, every single year, when I can reach out and pop that first tiny cherry tomato into my mouth. It’s the most natural process on earth and still it tastes like magic.

The first few harvests repeat this very same process; the wonder, the amazement, and the adoration of such impeccably fresh produce growing right in my backyard. Doing anything more than just eating the little red gems raw, still warm from the sunshine, seems like a crime against vegetables. Then, like clockwork, the tomatoes start to take over. There’s never more than a half-dozen working vines out there, and yet they’re suddenly producing more tomatoes than I know what to do with. Now it doesn’t sound like such a bad idea to get them into the kitchen anymore.

Adding a short but intense blast of heat contributes a beautiful char to the tiny tomatoes, introducing a slightly smoky note and concentrating their inherently umami flavors at the same time. The midsummer heat makes it a bit challenging to enjoy hot tomatoes though, so after chilling them down, they became the star ingredient in a salad inspired by one of my favorite stews: Posole.

Admittedly, I had never eaten hominy cold before, or outside of the classic soup for that matter, but it proved a delightful addition to this Tex-Mex mixture. Flavorful like fresh corn but more toothsome like miniature gnocchi, those chewy kernels lent the blend a heartiness akin to pasta salad, without all the gluten.

Speaking of those predictably unpredictable seasons, almost as soon as I had my picnic set up and ready to enjoy in the great outdoors, the sky decided that was the perfect moment to open up and begin to pour. Thus, I can now speak from experience to say that this salad does indeed keep well, for up 3 – 4 days in the fridge, and it’s even tasty when eaten warm.

While tomatoes are still plentiful and at their peak, celebrate the season with a unique preparation. It may be tough to sacrifice such perfect specimens, but I promise that the leap of faith will pay off in even bigger flavors.

Posole Salad

4 Cups Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Red Onion, Diced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/2 (1 1/4 Pound) Savoy Cabbage, Shredded
1 (29-Ounce) Can Cooked White Hominy, Drained and Rinsed
2 Ripe Avocados, Diced
1 Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely minced

Cilantro Dressing:

1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro
1/4 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1 Clove Garlic
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Olive Oil

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cherry tomatoes and diced red onion with the olive oil and oregano, and spread them out in one even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 15 – 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are blistered and beginning to burst. Let cool before proceeding to assemble to salad.

While you’re waiting for the tomatoes to cool, go ahead and prepare the dressing. Simply toss the cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic in your food processor or blender, and slowly pour the lime juice in while running the machine on low. Thoroughly puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if needed. Once mostly smooth, introduce the chili powder, cumin, agave, and salt next. Run the motor again while drizzling in the olive oil to emulsify.

Finish the salad, by tossing together the blistered tomatoes and onions, shredded cabbage, hominy, avocados, and jalapenos in a large bowl. Pour the dressing on top, tossing to coat. Chill for at least an hour before serving to allow the flavors to fully meld.

Serves 8 as a Starter or Side Dish

Printable Recipe


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More Mac and Cheese, Please

Like countless other American children, I had an unshakable affinity for mac and cheese even before I could properly pronounce the words to request it. Elbows, twists, ambiguous character shapes that would better be described as pasta amoeba; they were all greeted with enthusiasm, as long as they came from that magical blue box. I had never even heard of such a thing as baked macaroni and cheese until I hit high school, and by then it was much too late to swap allegiances. Soft noodles slowly drowning in a pool of neon yellow cheese sauce were the only thing for me, and no bread crumbs, vegetables, or fancy seasonings need apply.

Happily, my palate has considerably improved since my formative years, allowing me to discover the joys of homemade mac, spruced up with a brave new world of different flavors. That said, the love of that ubiquitous blue box will always be embedded deep within my psyche, drawing comparisons to each new mac and cheese contender, for better or worse. Now that there are genuinely cheesy vegan options appearing in every aisle of the supermarket, there’s a new blue box on the market, seeking to dethrone the old mac monarch.

Earth Balance first made waves when it unleashed vegan cheddar and white cheddar mac and cheese options about a year ago. Casting aside all preconceived notions of how a classic mac should be constructed, they’ve fearlessly unleashed a revised box that is not only dairy-free, but also gluten-free. Even I have to say that this is a pretty risky move, considering past hits and misses for non-allergenic noodles alone.

The cooking procedure is identical to every past mac I’ve known and loved; boil the pasta until tender, drain, mix with “cheese” powder, “milk”, and “butter”, and shovel into your mouth as fast as you can. Okay, that last part isn’t specifically written into the instructions, but just like any other cheesy macaroni mixture, this one doesn’t sit around well, and reheats rather miserably.

However, when hot and fresh, the rich, subtly starchy sauce has an undeniably cheesy, savory flavor. The initial flavor is somewhat delicate, but builds with subsequent bites. Though the dense, toothsome noodles are impressive for gluten-free pasta, they still clearly lack the distinctive springy texture granted by traditional wheat flour. As a certified gluten-lover, I probably wouldn’t pick these over the original, but they’re easily one of the better options for those already accustomed to celiac options.

As my omnivorous sister could attest, they certainly wouldn’t fool someone who’s more familiar with the old fashioned blue box, but even she admitted that they were “not bad.” High praise from someone who balks at the sight of anything remotely green on her dinner plate. Overall, Earth Balance has created an impressive offering for an instant, out-of-the-box dinner that can accommodate eaters of all stripes.


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No Dumb Blonde

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; applied to baked goods, this theory could be interpreted to say that for every brownie, there is a blondie. Isn’t science great?

Thus, when my brownie crisps were received with such voracious enthusiasm, I knew right away that there would need to be a round two for this experiment. Boasting the same satisfying crunch in a lighter golden-brown package, these sweet squares are the perfect contrast to the dark, devilish rendition that inspired them. I can’t say that one is better than the other- In fact, I think it would be unfair to pick one over the other. Clearly, the only way to maintain a harmonious balance is to make a batch of both at once.

Blondie Crisps

1/3 Cup Aquafaba (Liquid from a Can of Chickpeas)
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
3 Tablespoons Pure, Unflavored Pea Protein
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Molasses
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup (3 Ounces) Vegan White Chocolate Chips, Divided
3 Tablespoons Chopped Walnuts, Divided

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl with a hand mixer,) combine the aquafaba and sugar and beat until foamy. You’re not looking to whip it into a firm meringue here, but a loose froth with the sugar fully dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, pea protein, salt, and baking powder, stirring to ensure that all of the ingredients are equally distributed throughout the mixture.

Slowly add in the dry ingredients while the mixer runs, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Immediately follow with the oil, molasses, and vanilla, and stir just until the batter comes together smoothly. Fold in the half of the white chocolate chips and walnuts by hand.

Transfer the batter to your prepared baking sheet and use an offset spatula to spread it out as thinly as humanly possible. The batter should just about cover the whole sheet. Sprinkle the remaining white chocolate chips and walnuts evenly over the top.

Bake on the center rack in the oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pan, and continue baking for 10 more minutes. Pull the sheet out and use a pizza cutter to slice the square or rectangular shapes you desire, but don’t separate them yet. Return the cookies to the oven and bake for a final 10 – 14 minutes. They may still feel slightly soft in the center, but they’ll continue to crisp as they cool.

Let the crisps cool completely on the baking sheet before breaking the cookies apart. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, if you can manage to keep them around that long.

Makes 2 – 2 1/2 Dozen Blondie Crisps

Printable Recipe

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