BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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The Other Wheat Meat

Living “High on the Hog” has always meant enjoying the finer things in life, originally in reference to the choicest cuts of meat found on the upper half of the animal, which almost always meant one thing: ham. For many, a holiday just isn’t a proper celebration without a lavish roast on the table to both flaunt and share their prosperity. Such deeply ingrained customs are slowly evolving right alongside the shifting landscape of food preferences, so it was only a matter of time before someone was bold enough to take this tradition to task. I can’t think of any company more qualified to do so than Tofurky.

Makers of the original alternative roast, touting veganism before it was cool, Tofurky hasn’t stopped innovating since that fateful first product launch over 30 years ago. Trussed in genuine butcher’s twine and accordingly crosshatched by the pressure, the Vegetarian Ham Roast plays along to fit the bill, albeit on a much smaller scale. This beige football is said to feed five, but presumably a full feast with additional side dishes could stretch that number if need be.

Sharing many qualities with the classic turkey substitute, this porkless roast thaws out from a frozen state to meet a toasty preheated oven for about 1 1/2 hours of cooking. The biggest difference is that this rendition has no stuffing inside, but exterior embellishment instead. Included in the box is an “Extra Special Beer Glaze;” a thick syrup featuring Hopworks Velvet ESB, with a slightly granular texture owing to the inclusion of coarse, stone ground mustard. Make no mistake, it’s very sweet, first and foremost, but ultimately a good contrast to the saltiness of the roast.

That said, I had other plans for my roast and decided against the glaze, in favor of a more nuanced, herbaceous root beer brine, playing off the complex spices from the soda and contrasting with the savory heft of the roast. Dense, chewy, and quite solid, the texture is best when sliced thinly. No one would mistake it for meat, no doubt about that, but it’s a welcome departure from the standard faux-fowl or straight soybean fare for more festive occasions. Additionally, leftovers are brilliant additions to typically porky dishes, like a simple pot of creamy white beans or split pea soup. Since ham isn’t an entree that I encountered frequently as a child, it resonates more as a flavorful, protein-packed new ingredient than a whole entree for me.

That’s why I was especially excited to play around with the extra slices to make mock chashu, a Japanese form of marinated pork belly. Fanned out atop a bowlful of hot, steaming ramen, the visual and flavorful impact was quite stunning. Even with my otherwise humble assortment of vegetables cobbled together out of the pantry, this meal became an instant, unforgettable hit thanks to that exceptional meatless inclusion.

As further recipe experimentation has proven, this new plant-based ham roast provides more than just an annual comestible experience, but a promising year-round addition to anyone’s daily menu.

Root Beer Brined Ham

1 12-Ounce Bottle (1 1/2 Cups) Sugar-Sweetened Root Beer
1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Black Peppercorns
1 Teaspoon Brown Mustard Seeds
1/2 Teaspoon Whole Allspice Berries
1/2 Teaspoon Whole Cloves
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
1 Tofurky Ham Roast

Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized pan and bring to a vigorous boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate and let the roast marinate for at least 12 hours, but ideally 24 or even 48 if you can bare the wait.

To cook, bake the roast in a preheated 350 degree oven for 75 – 90 minutes, until golden brown on the outside and hot all the way through. Meanwhile, set the leftover brine back on the stove and simmer until reduced to a thick, syrupy sauce.

Slice thinly and serve with the root beer reduction on the side.

Makes 5 Servings

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Chashu

3/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Red Miso Paste
2 Tablespoons Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Mirin
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Sliced
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Tofurky Ham Roast

Just like the previous preparation, this procedure couldn’t be simpler. Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized pan and bring to a vigorous boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate and let the roast marinate for at least 8 hours.

Slice thinly and add to your favorite bowl of ramen noodles to serve. The warmth of the soup should reheat the slices without any additional cooking necessary.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Take a Trip Down Candy Cane Lane

Crisp and clean, an invigorating icy sensation greets me right as the sun begins to awake from its slumber on this early December morning. No, it’s not a fluke snow storm visiting California for the first time in years, but a wintry treat hailing from the warmth of the kitchen.

While the threat of actual flurries strikes fear into my heat-seeking heart, the oral chill of peppermint is an entirely different story. Be it pungent and herbaceous or smooth and subtle, I can’t get enough of the flavor, particularly when Christmas rolls around with an endless supply of candy canes around every corner. Those brittle sticks of red and white striped sugar are never going to inspire a frenzied Instagram fad like some popular seasonal sweets, but they’ll always be an essential element of the holiday season.

It’s never too early to get into the spirit, so a light, bright, candy cane smoothie is just the ticket, no matter what the weather is outside!

Pairing up bananas and mint together may sound like disastrous blind date, but hear me out on this one. In their unripe state, those tropical fruits merely lend creaminess and body to the blend, without any discordant flavor. Mint is powerful enough to speak above the subtle undertones anyhow, so all you’ll get is pure, bright, peppermint power with every sip. With this fool-proof formula, there’s no reason why you can’t make every day a holiday.

Candy Cane Lane Smoothie

3 Small Unripe Bananas, Frozen
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Protein Powder
1 Cup Non-Dairy Milk
1 – 2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup or Light Agave Nectar
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract
1 Tablespoon Beet Powder

Toss the frozen bananas, protein powder, non-dairy milk, 1 tablespoon syrup, and 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract into your blender. Puree until perfectly smooth, taste, and adjust sweetness and minty-ness to taste, as needed.

Pour half of the mixture into a separate pitcher and set aside. Add the beet powder to the blender and puree to incorporate.

Layer the two colors into a glass to create red and white stripes, gently stirring just before serving for a slightly marbleized effect. Add a straw and drink in that refreshing wintry goodness!

Makes 1 Serving

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Another Nod to Nog

In case nine different nog options weren’t enough for you, I’ve got one more eggless trick up my sleeve this holiday season. Recipes for vegan eggnog abound, from raw, nut-based blends to cooked custards that approximate melted ice cream, and all of those approaches are welcome in my punch bowl. You can’t go too far wrong with this classic combination of sugar and spice. Even in the worst case situations, a certain “spirited” addition can erase all other culinary sins.

Truth be told, this particular formula still can’t hold a candle to my winning pick for this year’s Nog Off, but it’s an uncanny dupe for the majority of mainstream varieties. Thick and silky smooth just like the commercial formulas, this particular rendition brings more vanilla and nutmeg to the fore, without the excessive sweetness that so many brands inject.

It’s all because of an effort to clear out overstuffed kitchen cabinets that I stumbled upon leftover dregs of VeganEgg samples. Surprised to discover that no one else had yet turned this instant egg substitute into nog, I took it upon myself to fill that void. Thus, here’s one more decadent, delicious vegan nog to sip and savor this holiday season. You’re welcome, internet.

VeganEgg Nog

3/4 Cup Cold Water
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons VeganEgg
1/8 Teaspoon Kala Namak
3 1/2 Cups Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Bourbon, or Additional Non-Dairy Milk for an Alcohol-Free Option

To Serve (Optional):

Whipped Coconut Cream
Ground Nutmeg

 

Place the water and sugar in your blender first and start the machine up on low speed. While the motor runs, slowly sprinkle the powdered VeganEgg into the center of the liquid vortex. It’s essential that you do this in a blender and not by hand with a whisk, as it will clump and become a nasty, chunky, unsalvageable mess. That’s no way to get into the holiday spirit!

Continue processing while adding the kala namak, non-dairy milk, and nutmeg. Once smooth, transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan set over moderate heat on your stove. Bring to a boil, whisking periodically, and immediately turn off the heat. Let cool before placing in the fridge. It may look somewhat thin while still warm, but have faith; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Allow at least 2 – 3 hours for it to chill thoroughly.

Pour the nog back into the blender and add the vanilla and bourbon, or more non-dairy milk if you’d like to keep it non-alcoholic. Blend once more until creamy and ladle into glasses. To serve, top with whipped coconut cream and one last sprinkle of nutmeg. Cheers!

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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Top Nog

What is it about the holiday season that incites us to cast all common sense aside and engage in otherwise inadvisable behavior, with childlike glee, no less? Whether that means racing outside into giant piles of freezing snow, risking frostbite to all appendages without a second thought, or racking up credit card bills for the sake of tree dressings and silly ornamentation used only once a year, we all write off these aberrations as all part of a collective Christmas madness shared throughout society. What causes you to throw out the rule book and deviate from standard operations? What touch of insanity do you entertain to make it really feel like the holidays are here? For me, that would be buying every single vegan nog option available across three towns for the sake of comparison.

Yes indeed, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: The great Nog-Off of 2017, pitting past industry heavy weights against startups and newbies to determine which eggless nog reigns supreme. This round was the most impressive yet, bringing in no less that nine different beverages vying for the title of Top Nog.

Time is of the essence, with each of these elusive elixirs produced for a very limited time during the most festive of days, so let’s pour a glass and get started, shall we?

It was an extremely difficult, close race to judge, but last place was obvious right away. Sorry, not sorry, but Rice Dream Rice Nog will never be welcome at my holiday party. Inexplicably pink and quite watery, it utilizes aggressive sweetness to compensate for a distinct lack of flavor. Granted, it’s not outright dreadful, but not even close to “authentic” nog. On the plus side, the rice base will appeal to those with severe allergies, and the aseptic, shelf-stable carton means it will keep well… Possibly for years… Much like an unwanted fruitcake.

That said, this came as no surprise. My greatest disappointment was actually the second to last place finisher, the highly esteemed MALK Pecan MALK Nog. Tawny brown, it stood out with a distinctive darkness in a sea of pastel hues, owing to a unique blend of maple syrup and whole pecans as a base. The bottle isn’t kidding when it admonishes the drinker to shake “super” well; no stabilizers or fillers means that this stuff separates, which I can certainly appreciate from a stance of ingredient integrity and a commitment to quality. Scented strongly of cinnamon, the overall impression was surprisingly light, dangerously drinkable- Smooth and sweet, but not particularly thick or rich. Sadly, this made it more reminiscent of horchata than eggnog. It just couldn’t cut the mustard for that full-bodied eggless experience.

From there, things improve drastically. Luckily, you can’t go too far wrong with most selections available Nationwide, and in fact a number of these cartons could be interchanged without any guests being being the wiser.

Califia Holiday Nog and Silk Nog Original pull in the next rank up, tied for their close flavor profiles and consistencies. Silk is perhaps a touch sweeter, if anything. Though the former is almond-based and the later soy, both have a smooth, creamy pour equivalent to the average, slightly richer non-dairy milk. There’s a distinctive brightness at first sip that defies definition; almost like undefinable spice or burst of acidity, but without warmth or sharpness. Fine as an everyday, everyman sort of nog, a hit of bourbon or brandy would be a welcome addition to make things a bit more festive. Fairly neutral, without explicit nutmeg nor eggy notes, either would be inoffensive, if undistinguished, offerings on the drink buffet.

Fresh on the market, Trader Joe’s Almond Nog has already taken Instagram by storm, right along with the impressive array of new vegan options that seem to crop up on each new trip to the store. Smooth and mellow, creamy, and boasting a balanced sweetness, this blend presents a harmonious middle of the road option that should please all who imbibe. Satisfingly in thick, not overbearing nor weighed down by gums, a light hand on the spicing and very subtle nutty undertone explains why dairy-free drinkers are delighted by this new choice. No one would mistake it for the traditional brew, but no one would complain about the substitution, either.

Moving on up, it’s with sadness and joy that I must report that previous grand champion So Delicious Seasonal Coconut Holiday Nog has been dethroned! It’s a sad blow to the superlative brand, but a boon to veganism that there are even greater choices to pick from now. Still a genuinely delicious selection, true to the name, the coconut base is definitely rich, decadent, and bold. That said, it was all love and sweetness on the first sip, and then… A startling aftertaste of old latex bandaids came to the fore. Off-putting, upsetting, to say the least, this mysterious sour note almost put it on the naught list this year. Such missteps would certainly be forgiven with a splash of booze to smooth things over, but otherwise it was fabulous!

Another fresh face on the scene is making a big splash, pulling in a top spot with an unconventional flaxseed fixation. Good Karma Holiday Nog is the one and only flax nog on earth, to my knowledge. Glowing with the palest complexion of pastel yellow, the flavor profile is defined by a restrained sweetness, a bare hint of spice, and a subtle nutty, pleasantly grassy aftertaste. Smooth and creamy, but slightly sticky, it lingers on the palate in an indulgent sort of way that belies its impressively light calorie load.

In a big upset, my mainstream market nog of choice this year turned out to be Classic Almond Breeze Almondmilk Nog. Curiously absent from the official brand website and difficult to track down, it was a sleeper hit. So easy to drink, creamy and cool, it makes no bones about the almond base with an attempt to cover up the nutty influence, incorporating it harmoniously within the overall beverage instead. Vanilla plays a more prominent role in this blend, and although I do wish there was more nutmeg sparkling throughout the mix, this was the bottle I ultimately wanted more of when all were drained.

But that’s not the end of the story. There was one clear, standout winner here, rising far above the ranks of these more attainable options. The crown is well deserved, for its genuinely egg-like richness, sheer decadence, and clear holiday spirit. Though you may need to special-order it online, the efforts would be worthwhile for a true nog lover. The Urban Remedy No Egg Nog is in a class all its own. Rich and filling, with a clean finish, it has a very different texture from the rest of the pack, without gums or stabilizers. Though easily the most indulgent option available, it’s arguably the most healthy, owing to its simple, natural ingredients; whole almonds, cashews, and dates join forces in this nutmeg-centric and boldly spiced beverage that drinks like a meal. A considerable sprinkle of salt boosts the flavor up to eleven, making it entirely crave-worthy on a whole new level. This is what the holiday season is all about: a rare, special treat that breaks through the typical structure of one’s daily life, or daily diet, as it were. You wouldn’t drink it everyday, but you’ll miss it dearly when it’s gone.

To all those unfortunately out of driving or delivery range, the sweet folks at Urban Remedy have a generous holiday present to share. You can actually scope out their unique recipe, posted for all to enjoy and freely imbibe.

If all that noggin’ around doesn’t get you into the holiday spirit, I don’t know what will.

So, how did your favorites stack up? Do you agree with the 2017 Nog-Off results, or are you willing to pick a fight for your own personal winner? More importantly though, did I miss any other contenders for the next round?


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Mocha Me Crazy

Crispy edges shatter upon the most tender, tentative of bites, giving way to a gently chewy interior rife with toasted nuts. Sweet, but balanced by the naturally bitter nuances of coffee and dark cocoa, this riot of flavor and texture all comes in a modest, unassuming little bar. While most holiday cookies are lavished with bold frosted jewels and colorful sugar crystals, the prettiest confections would be hard-pressed to compete with such unvarnished indulgence. Most would dub such an accomplishment as a resounding baking success, so it might come as a surprise that the whole lot of them was almost destined for the trash heap.

Though glorious in their own quiet sort of way, these treats were born of much loftier aspirations- Literally. Back in the very early stages of aquafaba awareness, many crazy experiments were carried out in the name of science, and sweet tooth-fueled cravings, of course. Admittedly, the frustration of failure has darkened the memory of their origins, so it’s hard to say exactly what I had intended while dutifully whipping chickpea brine into submission. A seriously nutty sponge cake, perhaps? Regardless of intention, the results fell flat.

Trying hard to salvage the thin, brittle sheet of confectionery matter, I picked up the pieces and dutifully went through the motions of styling and photography, but remained dispirited. If not for certain interlopers that kept swiping errant crumbs and strongly suggesting that a proper taste test was in order, the recipe would have immediately hit the digital dust bin. Thank goodness for that persistence which saved a new family favorite.

Rising from the ashes and crumbs, I’m pleased to finally present these Mocha-Nut Bars as part of Rodelle’s 2017 Holiday Cookie Campaign. Pooling together some of the brightest (and sweetest) minds in the blogosphere, there’s no shortage of sugar or spice here. In fact, the master bakers at Rodelle have taken it upon themselves to ensure that, and have generously offered to provide their unrivaled baking cocoa for many more rounds of delicious experimentation.

GIVEAWAY ALERT! Enter to win one of two 8-ounce jars of this superlative baking cocoa by telling me in the comment section: What has been your most delicious recipe “failure” or mistake to date? Log your submission and find more ways to enter though the official giveaway form.

Baking, as with most things in life, doesn’t always go exactly according to plan on the first try. The only real mistake, however, would be letting those challenges prevent us from finding entirely new successes in the process.

Mocha-Nut Bars

1/2 Cup Toasted Pistachios, Chopped
1/2 Cup Toasted Cashews, Chopped
1/2 Cup Toasted Pecans, Chopped
1/2 Cup Almond Meal
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1/3 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Instant Coffee Powder or Granules
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons Aquafaba
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9×9-inch square pan.

Mix together the nuts, almond meal, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa powder, flour, instant coffee, salt, and baking soda. Make sure there are no clumps, and that all the ingredients are well distributed throughout before proceeding.

Place the aquafaba in the bowl of your stand mixer and whip on high speed for about 10 minutes, until light and fluff. Slowly add in about half of the dry mixture, mixing gently until incorporated. Fold in the remaining half by hand using a wide spatula. Add in the oil and vanilla last, stirring as little as possible to keep the batter nice and airy.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the top is glossy (but not wet) and slightly crackled in appearance. Let cool completely before slicing. Store in an airtight container for 3 – 5 days.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

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