BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Pumpkinundation

Is it safe to come out yet? Have the relentless demands for all things pumpkin-spiced died down, at least to an intermittent, dull roar? I’ve been hanging onto one gem of a pumpkin recipe for months, but selfishly withheld it from the blog-reading public, fearing it would become lost in the sea of squash.

No, wait, don’t click away just yet! Rather than another sweet interpretation of the seasonal gourd, loosely modeled around the flavors of a pie rather than the actual vegetable, I’m much more fond of pumpkin when it actually tastes like, well, pumpkin. Crazy though it may be, I’d much prefer to see pumpkin turn up as a savory offering during the main meal instead of just the grand finale, capped off with an avalanche of sugar and seasonings so strong that they obscure the inherent flavor of the star ingredient. Food producers and well-meaning cooks alike seem to have forgotten the pumpkin’s potential outside of the dessert realm.

Even if you’re feeling burnt out on pumpkin, I would implore you to give it another shot when re-imagined in matzo ball format. Completely nontraditional and aligned with entirely the wrong Jewish holiday, these are definitely not your Bubbie’s matzo balls. Bound together with roasted pumpkin puree, I prefer to think of them more as matzo dumplings, since they bear a denser, more toothsome texture than the fluffy pillows of Passover lore. The goal of this wintery interpretation was not to perfect the vegan matzo ball, but to create something with the same sort of comforting flavors, revamped with a more seasonal spin.

Moreover, purists would be horrified at my cooking methods. A baked matzo ball, for crying out loud? That’s downright heresy in some kosher kitchens, I’m sure. The beauty of this approach is that rather than getting soggy dumplings, halfway dissolved into a puddle of lukewarm soup, they stay perfectly intact until the moment your spoon carves through the tender spheres. Allowing for effortless advanced preparation, just keep the dumplings safely out of the golden, vegetable-rich pool until the moment you’re ready to serve.

On a blustery, cold day when nothing but a heartwarming bowl of soup will do, this is my idea of comfort food. Owing nothing to the overblown pumpkin trend, it’s still worth keeping your pantry stocked with a can of the stuff, just in case a craving strikes.

Pumpkin Matzo Dumpling Soup

Matzo Balls:

1 1/3 Cups Fine Matzo Meal
2 Teaspoons Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup Very Finely Minced Yellow Onion
1 1/2 Cups Roasted Pumpkin Puree, or 1 (14-Ounce) Can 100% Solid Packed Pumpkin Puree
1/4 Cup Olive Oil

Vegetable Soup:

6 Cups Vegetable Broth
2 Small Carrots, Thinly Sliced
2 Stalks Celery, Thinly Sliced
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1/4 Cup Fresh Dill, Minced
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, stir together the matzo meal, salt, garlic powder, baking powder, and soda. Yes, it may seem like a lot of salt, but it gets rationed into many little matzo dumplings. Don’t back down on the amount or else you’ll risk making bland balls! Make sure all the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout before adding in the minced onion, tossing to coat. Combine the pumpkin puree and olive oil in a separate container, whisking until smooth, and pour the wet mixture into the bowl. Mix with a wide spatula, stirring thoroughly to combine, until there are no remaining pockets of dry ingredients. Let the matzo batter sit in a cool spot for about 15 minutes to thicken before proceeding.

I like using a small cookie scoop for more consistent dumplings, but a good old fashioned tablespoon will do just fine as well. Scoop out about 2 teaspoons of the matzo mixture for each dumpling, rolling them very gently between lightly moistened hands to round them out. Place each one on your prepared baking sheet about 1/2-inch part. There’s no risk of them spreading, but giving them a bit of breathing room helps to ensure more even cooking. Repeat until all of the batter is used and you have a neat little army of raw matzo balls ready to be baked. Lightly spritz the tops with olive oil spray for better browning, if desired.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, rotating the sheet pan halfway through, until golden brown all over.

Meanwhile, prepare the soup itself by combining the broth, carrots, celery, and onion in a medium stock pot. Bring it to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking until the carrots are fork-tender. Right before serving, add in the fresh herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle out some of the soup into each soup bowl and add in the baked matzo dumplings right before serving. Enjoy piping hot!

Makes 35 – 40 Dumplings; About 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Wild Winter Wonderland

Change up the usual festive flavors and think blue this holiday season! Before you hit palate fatigue from pumpkin pie-spiced everything, reach to the freezer for inspiration and invite Wild Blueberries back to the party. Even as the days go by and winter tightens its grip, frozen Wild Blueberries are still not only available but convenient, since they’ll stay icily preserved until inspiration strikes, and of course, just as sweet and delicious as ever. I’m not alone in my Wild Blueberry holiday plans, as two other very talented bloggers have joined me in developing some festive, true blue treats to celebrate the season.

Together, with the help of Wild Blueberries, we banded together to create a delicious free e-book with seven irresistible recipes, both sweet and savory, to help inspire some new holiday traditions.

My contributions start with a sweet and simple drink. It may not look like much more than a standard mug of hot chocolate, but beneath that steamy surface hides a rich, blue secret. Wild Blueberries and chai tea spice things up together, contributing both a warming and fresh, fruity flavor unlike any other cocoa combination I’ve ever tried. Wild Blueberry Chai-Spiced Hot Chocolate is a snap to whip up after a rough day out in the freezing cold, and is sure to take the chill off instantly.

Heading over to the savory side of the street, a quick Wild Blueberry jam infused with fresh sage is sure to surprise and delight. Perfect to smear on crackers and enjoy unadorned, or pack into pretty glass jars to give away as gifts, this is an intense, flavorful spread that masterfully balances sweet, savory, sour, salty, and herbal tastes in every bite. Of course, you can also dress it up for your next big shindig by creating Wild Blueberry Crostini.

Lightly toasted slices of baguette are topped with creamy pistachio ricotta, serving as the perfect foil to the flavorful jam. Finish the whole thing off with a sprinkle of crunchy whole pistachios, and guests may not be able to save room for dinner itself.

Stock up on a bag or two of frozen Wild Blueberries and go check out the whole free e-book for these recipes and more. I don’t know about you, but now I’m dreaming of a blue Christmas…

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


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Helau!

Though I hate to quote such a loathsome pop reference, Oops, I did it again. While no one was looking, I slipped away out the backdoor, spent a long weekend overseas in Germany, and quietly let myself back in. Talk about a whirlwind trip; there wasn’t even enough time to adjust to the time difference, or get a full night of sleep for that matter. Swept up in the spirit of the winter carnival, none of that mattered for long. It’s impossible not to drink in that energy and share the excitement of the crowd. It’s an annual custom that needs no translation, or complete understanding either. The most inexplicable parts are the best, such as the odd mish-mash of costume themes, the throwing of not only candy off of parade floats but also mini bottles of alcohol, or the exact meaning of “helau!” All that matters is that you yell it at the top of your lungs, again and again, to loved ones and strangers alike. After an hour or two in the freezing cold, feet turned into unfeeling blocks of ice, it simply starts to sound a whole lot like “hurrah!”

I’m sure Mardi Gras in New Orleans was wild and wonderful, but the Germans sure do know how to party, too.

While I struggle to acclimate to daily life at home once more, I will continue uploading photos and anecdotes on Flickr. It wasn’t the same sort of food-focused trip that Hawaii was, but there were  plenty of other fascinating subjects to train my lens on instead.


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Coming Soon to a Mailbox or Newsstand Near You…

Typically, sharing about the latest and greatest issue of VegNews is a big waiting game. Rarely does my own copy arrive before I spill the beans, but I can usually resist the urge to post about it at least until the designated month on the cover. Needless to say, that’s not the case for the incoming November/December issue. As soon as I learned that at least one copy was out in the wild, that signaled that it was fair game. This collection of articles and recipes is so enticing, so irresistible, that hopefully my impatience is pardonable this time around.

Returning with another column of My Sweet Vegan, I’m thrilled to share what may very well become the holiday dessert that everyone talks about for years to come: Black Forest Parfaits. The classic Christmas cake has been broken down into its essential components to be reassembled in delicate layers of chocolate cake, vanilla creme, and a lightly boozy drunken Morello cherry sauce. Not only does this presentation allow each element to shine, visible through clear glass walls, but it means individual servings can be prepared in advance and served without any messy slicing or scooping. Easier on the cook and tastier on the palate; can you say, “win-win”?

After coming down from my cake-induced sugar high, I was thrilled to photograph a deeply satisfying, warming soup as well. Effortless to whip up, the depth of flavor that Jesse Miner managed to create in his Smoky Tomato and Kale Soup is astonishing. Spiked with chili and rounded out by hearty potatoes and quinoa, this is not your average pallid tomato water. More like a stew than a modest soup, it could easily pass as a main course, rather than merely a humble side.

Let’s not forget, this is also the issue where the annual Veggie Award winners are revealed, among many other exciting features. Who’s won favorite cookbook or blog author this year? Now, I wouldn’t spoil that surprise even if I knew!


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Twenty-Three

In the most minimal fashion, much like the twenty-second year preceding it, my twenty third birthday came and went. There was ice skating with my dad, a shared lunch, a black and white movie at home, and cake; no party, and no candles. Not so much a day of celebration as a day of rest, which sounds just about right to me.

Birthdays of mine have been historically bad days in the past, taking into consideration both apocalyptic winter weather and borderline psychotic meltdowns, so this quieter, uneventful rendition was a merciful change of pace. Less a marker of having arrived at some milestone, I found the date reassuring, a small checkpoint within the greater journey. I’m still here, twenty three years later, and it’s beginning to look like I may just be here in another twenty three as well. Imagine that.

Corresponding with my laid back non-celebration, the cake at hand was simple, unfussy- Homely by some estimations. All I wanted was a dark, moist, spicy gingerbread cake, one that reminded me of The One That Got Away. Ten years ago, scouting out a location for my Bat Mitzvah, I chose the final restaurant based solely on the gingerbread cake served for dessert. Dripping with caramel and finished with a fluffy halo towering over the plate, it’s now all I remember about that meal. In my youth and excitement, it never occurred to me that the event would be catered, and I would never see that beauty of a cake again. In fact, the restaurant has since gone out of business, just to close that book entirely.

So I made it for myself, ten years later. (Ten years. 10. It bears repeating because it seems wildly impossible that so much time could have passed.) Even if there were no candles and no fanfare, it was the perfect ending to my non-celebration.

Gingerbread Blackout Cake

2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3 Tablespoons Black Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
6 – 7 Teaspoons (2 Heaping Tablespoons) Ground Ginger
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee
3/4 Cup Molasses
3/4 Cup No Sugar Added Pumpkin Butter or Apple Butter
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Canola Oil

Vegan Butterscotch Sauce (From Vegan À La Mode, coming soon!) or Caramel Sauce, and Whipped Creme

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 9-inch square baking pan; Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and spices. Whisk well to distribute all of the dry goods throughout, and double-check that there are no clumps.

Separately, mix the coffee, molasses, pumpkin butter, sugar, and oil until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to bring the two together. Being careful not to over-mix, stir just until the batter is smooth and not a second longer. Transfer the batter into your prepared baking pan, smooth out the top, and pop it in the oven. Immediately turn down the heat to 325 degrees, even before you close the oven door.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean- Perhaps with a few moist crumbs sticking to it but certainly not wet. Let cool completely before slicing and serving with butterscotch sauce and whipped creme.

If time allows, this cake does get better with age, so try to make it a day or two in advance for the flavor profile to become more nuanced and balanced.

Makes 16 – 20 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Moving Right Along

…Is it safe to come out now? Has the Thanksgiving madness come and gone for another year? Thank goodness, it passed without too much fuss or duress around here, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Now that we’re over that hurdle, there’s nothing standing between us and full-blown winter holiday immersion. Decorations and wrapping may have been pushed to a prominent place in stores since Halloween, but now we can finally stop ignoring them- There’s no longer any shame in diving head-first into that sea of iridescent tinsel. It’s my favorite time to cook and bake, when diets don’t even factor in and everyone eats with abandon, simply enjoying the festive foods on offer. Desserts can be desserts, not healthy desserts or breakfast-like desserts (although they may very well be on the menu first thing in the morning, too) and extravagant ingredients can be just par for the course.

If ever there was an easy show-stopper of a treat for the holidays, for me, it would have to be a rum cake. Doused with spirits and emboldened with light spices, I have fond memories of picking moist crumbs off of empty serving plates as I carried them back to the kitchen. Under the guise of being a helpful child, I was really after those leftover scraps.

This year, I gave the traditional bundt a cloak of chocolate, transforming it into a downright fudgy mountain of gently boozy cake. Dotted with sizable chunks of candied ginger, every bite is a little bit different.

Sorry to be a tease, but my Chocolate Rum Bundt recipe can be found in the new November/December issue of Joy of Kosher. Keep an eye on the website though, because they often generously share the recipes after a certain time of having the magazine on the news stands.

I’m certainly in the holiday spirit now! How about you?


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Edible Heirlooms

You know those weirdos who get all excited about the simplest foods? Those people you see in the produce section, lunging for the first and most perfect pumpkin of the season? The shoppers playing bumper carts as they race down aisles, desperate to get the freshest, greenest head of kale? Yeah, I’m outing myself here: I’m one of them. Though the term “foodie” holds little meaning to me, I would gladly take the title of “food lover.” Spying a deal on favorite produce can make my day, and I have been known to literally jump up and down in the middle of a store upon finding a much sought-after edible.

Such was the scene in the early summer, when a brand new Whole Foods opened up practically down the street from me. Combing through the expansive bulk bin section first thing on opening day, a fascinating new selection of dry goods were right at my finger tips. Things I had only read about, like kaniwa, suddenly were within my reach. Right at the end of the line, as if saving the best for last, it was there that I came upon the 10 heirloom bean mix. Such a riot of colors and shapes seemed impossible to come from merely beans, those much maligned legumes that typically only came in varying shades of brown. Positively enchanted, I loaded up a bag full of the otherworldly bean blend, the smooth, dry skins clattering together gently as they slid off the metal scoop.

And then, they sat. Not quite forgotten, but with no clear destination, my pound-plus of gorgeous flageolet, orca, canary beans, and so forth remained squirreled away in the pantry, out of sight and definitely out of mind. Who wants to spend half a day bent over a boiling pot of beans in the heat of summer anyway?

Not a paltry handful of months could dampen my enthusiasm; Finally the heat broke, and those lovely legumes sprung back into my sights and finally onto my menu.

An ideal meal for a chilly fall or winter day, any sort of stew is perfect to warm the belly and sustain a difficult day of work. Or, fuel the mind for a long day of writing. Or simply provide comfort and nourishment for the worn and tired soul. Though the cooking process did undeniable dampen my rainbow of heirlooms, I’d gladly take the trade off of delicious, earthy flavor and creamy textures instead. Any sort of beans will do in this simple mixture, so don’t feel compelled to go out in search of a rare bean blend- Unless that sounds like your idea of fun, too.

Garlicky Greens and Beans Stew

1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, Diced
1 Whole Bulb Garlic (12 – 15 Cloves), Peeled and Finely Minced
8 Ounces Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
1 Bay Leaf
1 Teaspoon Dried Basil
1 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Corriander
1/4 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
2 Tablespoons Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 Cup Mushroom or Vegetable Broth
1 28-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
1 Large Sweet Potato, Peeled and Diced
3 Cups Cooked Beans (Heirloom 10 Bean Mix)
1 Bunch Kale (About 1 Pound), Cleaned, De-stemmed, and Chopped
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Set a large stock pot over medium heat, and start by sauteing the chopped onion in the oil. Once softened and somewhat translucent, add in the minced garlic, and cook for about 5 or 6 minutes, until the onion just begins to brown around the edges. Introduce the mushrooms at that point, and allow them 3 – 5 more minutes to cook down slightly and become aromatic.

Add in the spices and seasonings, along with your broth of choice, tomatoes, and sweet potato. Stir well, bring to a boil, and cover the pot. Turn the heat down so that the stew is at a lively simmer, and let cook for 15 minutes. After that time has elapsed, add in the cooked beans, and continue simmering, uncovered, for another 15 minutes. Test the potatoes to make sure that they’re fork tender, and if they are, turn off the heat. Mix in the kale a few handfuls at a time, using the residual heat to wilt it down. Mix in the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, with a chunk of crusty bread or over a bowlful of rice.

Serves 6 – 8

Printable Recipe

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