BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Clear-Cut

Alinea set the internet on fire once again with another avant-garde culinary masterpiece, drawing on the pumpkin spice craze to further propel it into a viral hit. Perfectly clear pumpkin pie, glossy and ethereal, gently quavered in the brief Instagram video, a tiny wedge being turned over and examined by a disembodied hand. Mesmerizing, confounding, the attraction is instant and irresistible.

#surrealism, indeed.

I tried to look away, to ignore the hype, but curiosity got the best of me, as it always does. A homemade rendition would never be able to stand up to the original for lack of fancy equipment, unless you happen to have a centrifuge and rotary-evaporator lying around to extract clear, condensed liquid from pumpkin puree, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play with the concept. Drawing inspiration from this wild idea and combining it with the pumpkin spice trend that ignores the actual gourd, my take is admittedly more translucent than transparent, but nonetheless a whimsical departure from the ordinary orange slice.

Translucent Pumpkin Spice Pie

1 (8-Inch) Graham Cracker Crust, Baked
3 Cups Water
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Pumpkin Spice Extract
1 Tablespoon Agar Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Salt

Combine the water, sugar, pumpkin spice extract, agar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk periodically until the sugar has fully dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for 2 more minutes. Gently pour the mixture into your prepared crust so as not to kick up lots of loose crumbs. Let the pie cool to room temperature before moving it into the fridge to chill. Once fully set (about 1 to 2 hours), slice and serve!

Makes 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

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Tagine O’ Plenty

Two weeks, and counting. Are you ready for Thanksgiving yet? Don’t worry, there’s no need to rush out and grab a frozen roast from the grocery store yet. As a matter of fact, there’s still ample time to plan out a genuine feast fit for a crowd of voracious revelers. Be it a fancy affair or a low-key, casual gathering, I have just the recipe for you.

Shrouded in mystery as it arrives to the table covered, concealed by the heavy ceramic lid of the tagine. Hot and heavy, it lands with a weight of importance; all eyes are on this curious dish. Lift the lid to release a great plume of steam, followed shortly by awed gasps, wide eyes, and possibly even a round of applause. It’s no exaggeration to say that this entree is the height of my holiday hostess career up to this point.

Laden with slow-roasted autumnal squash, root vegetables, and caramelized onions, the multicolored melange of produce is just the tip of the iceberg. Dig deeper to uncover a warmly spiced chickpea and tomato curry, freckled with fresh herbs and punctuated with briny green olives. Explore further still, and eventually your spoon will hit gold; a vibrant bed of garlicky, flaxen couscous lovingly cradles the savory mountain with ease, supporting and absorbing those brilliant flavors without disappearing into the background like a bland bit player.

Thanksgiving is about celebrating abundance, and this meatless main is the epitome of just that. It’s not trying to imitate any trussed up fowl nor does it care to compare itself against ingrained traditions. It’s a bold departure from the standard American menu, and yet it makes so much more sense from a plant-based perspective. Rejoice in the season and all it has to offer, rather than stick to an antiquated script that hardly resonates with the average eater of today.

With great inventions comes great responsibility, and no small measure of commitment. Truth be told, this is a serious undertaking, a huge amount of food to break down and a lot of time to invest for one meal, but wouldn’t you go through exactly the same lengths for a grand roast? How many times a year do you get to invite over all your friends and family and feed them a lavish, over-the-top banquet, after all? This is the time to break out the nice plates, pull out all the stops, and create a dinner that everyone will talk about for years to come.

So now, tell me… Do you have your Thanksgiving dinner plans yet?

Harvest Tagine

4 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
2 Apples, Cored and Sliced
2 Small Parsnips, Peeled and Cut into 4-Inch Long Sticks
1 Large Red Onion, Cut into Wedges
2 Medium Red and/or Orange Bell Peppers, Seeded and Cut into 4-Inch Long Sticks
1 Medium Delicata Squash, Halved, Seeded, and Sliced into Half-Rings
1 1/2 Cups Baby Carrots
1 Teaspoon Salt, Divided
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
4 Cloves Garlic, Sliced
2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 1/4 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
28-Ounce Can Fire-Roasted Crushed Tomatoes
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained
1/2 Cup Green Olives
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley, Roughly Chopped
1/4 Cup Toasted Pepitas

Toasted Golden Couscous

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Couscous
3 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease 2 – 3 sheet pans.

Begin by breaking down all the apples, parsnips, onion, bell peppers, and delicata squash, and laying them out on the prepared sheet pans, along with the baby carrots, in one even layer. Drizzle evenly with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and all the black pepper. Roast for 50 – 60 minutes, rotating the pans every 20 minutes or so, until evenly browned and fork-tender. No need to flip as long as you adjust the sheets on higher and lower levels as you spin them around.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large stock pot over medium heat on the stove. Add the garlic and cook until golden brown and highly aromatic, stirring frequently to prevent the pieces from burning; about 5 – 7 minutes. Sprinkle in all of the spice and mix well, toasting for just 1 minute to unlock their full flavor potential. Quickly deglaze with the crushed tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the pot with your spatula to make sure everything is fully incorporated. Bring up to a simmer and add the chickpeas and olives.

Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for an additional 15 – 20 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, give it a taste, and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, if needed.

For the couscous, set another large pot on the stove over medium heat. Add the oil and garlic, and cook until golden. Add in the couscous next and stir well, coating that granules with oil and toasting until the mixture smells wonderfully nutty and garlicky. Pour in the vegetable stock and stir in the turmeric. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn off the heat. Let sit, undisturbed, for 15 minutes until the grains have absorbed all of the liquid. Fluff with a fork before transferring it to the bottom of a large ceramic tagine (or casserole dish fit for serving table side.)

To complete the tagine, cover the couscous with the chickpea stew and arrange the roasted vegetables attractively on top. Finish with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and pepitas, and serve immediately, while piping hot.

If you’d like to prepare the tagine in advance, you can make the entire assembly up to 5 hours before serving. Cover and store in the fridge. Reheat in an oven preheated to 375 degrees for 15 – 30 minutes, depending on how conductive your serving dish is. Just check periodically to see if it’s hot all the way through.

You can also create the individual components up to 2 days in advance. Just store them separately in airtight containers in the fridge. Be sure to re-fluff the couscous before proceeding with the rest of the construction.

Makes 10 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe


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It’s Easy Being Cheesy

Dear Mr. Chester Cheetah,

I take issue with your early assertions on the degree of difficulty one might encounter attempting to become properly cheesy, whether it was in regard to humor or flavor. Though the remark was somewhat ambiguous on that point, it was poignant enough to remain a prominent reference point in modern culture over three decades after the initial statement, misinforming generations of ignorant eaters. For this, countless have been deprived of full cheesy satisfaction. Respectfully, I would request that you retract this proclamation, post-haste.

Sincerely,

Hannah Kaminsky

My friends, you’ve been misinformed all these years. I’m sorry for anyone that’s been deprived of their full inalienable rights to cheesiness due to the confusion, but I’m here today to put an end to that grave injustice.

Cheese doodles, cheese puffs, cheesy poofs or any variation on the name have been a mainstay in American snacking practices since their invention in the 1930’s, yet few people have successfully recreated the same crunchy, crispy treat in their own homes. Big manufacturers would like us to believe that only specialized equipment can create that distinctive snacking experience, but it’s not so! The truth is, you just need to use your noodle and get a little bit creative.

Inspired by the Tresomega Nutrition’s Blogger Recipe Challenge, I found that the unique blend of whole grains and starches found in their gluten-free pasta could create a perfectly hearty yet light crispness with just a little bit of experimentation. Their unique composition is what will make or break the recipe, so you do want to source out the genuine article for best results.

Happily, the quinoa fusilli is available for purchase at Tresomega.com, Sams.com, Amazon.com, and Walmart.com, so there’s no need to hunt and scour grocery store shelves in vain. Technically, any shape would do the trick, but those tight spirals fry up to a perfectly crisp consistency and capture the most cheesy seasoning in every delicious bite.

Savory, salty, and oh so addictive, I daresay these just might beat that misinformed cheetah at his own game.

Once and for all, I’d like the record to state that it IS easy being cheesy, and without any dairy or gluten, either!

Cheesy Pasta Doodles

1 (8-Ounce) Box Tresomega Gluten-Free Organic Quinoa Fusilli
1 Quart Neutral Oil (For Frying)
3/4 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces
1/2 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Arrowroot
1 Tablespoon Ground Golden Flaxseeds
2 Teaspoons Onion Powder
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika

Begin by bringing a generous pot of water up to a boil. Add in the full box of pasta, stirring to make sure the pieces don’t clump together, and cook for just 3 minutes. You’re not trying to fully cook them yet, so they should still be slightly crunchy on the inside. Drain, immediately rinse with cold water, and spread the noodles out on sturdy paper towels or a clean dish towels. Air dry thoroughly, so that they’re no longer wet or sticky to the touch.

Begin heating the neutral oil in a medium saucepan with high sides over moderate heat on the stove.

Meanwhile, prepare the cheesy seasoning by combining all of the remaining ingredients in your food processor or blender, pulsing until the nuts have broken down into a fine meal. Be careful not to overdo it or else you’ll create a cheesy cashew butter instead! For best results, freeze your cashews for 8 hours in advance to prevent them from heating up too much while processing.

Once the oil comes up to about 375 – 385 degrees, add in a handful of the par-cooked pasta, using a wire basket strainer to push the pieces around and keep them separate. Fry for 3 – 4 minutes until the pasta floats and the vigorous bubbling subsides. The pasta will not become particularly brown, so don’t judge the doneness by color.

Scoop out the finished pieces, drain away the excess oil, and let rest on fresh paper towels or dish towels for about 1 minute. Toss in a large bowl with a hefty sprinkle of the cheesy seasoning, to taste. Repeat with the remaining noodles. Serve right away.

You may have extra cheesy seasoning, which can be saved in an airtight container for up to two weeks in the fridge, or two months in the freezer.

Printable Recipe


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Illuminating Secrets to Mouth-Watering Photography

Contrary to popular belief, the key factor in achieving enticing images of food is not the camera you use and how many megapixels it has, but how you choose to light the scene.  For many professional photographers, this means buying numerous pricey studio lights, not to mention the never ending list of accessories, tools, and toys needed to properly manipulate the quality of that light. As more hobbyists have discovered a passion for food photography and food blogs became ubiquitous, however, this industry standard is rapidly changing. Preferring a softer, more “realistic” look as you might find the food in your own home, natural light is frequently the best choice for creating the most appealing shots, and one that I typically go with as well, despite easy access strobe lights. Knowing a few tips and tricks, put to use with plenty of practice, can enable anyone to capture luscious food photos worth drooling over.

The list of essential equipment is very short: A serviceable digital camera or camera phone, a dish you’d like to capture, and light are the only absolutely essential ingredients. For best effect, it’s highly recommended that you save your photo sessions for bright, sunny days, and aim to start shooting any time from late morning until sunset, for the best intensity of light to work with. Taking photos at different times of the day will yield varying results and some interesting, more atmospheric or moody effects, due to the higher or lower positions of the sun, so don’t be afraid to try different hours to see which you like best.

Though you’re always looking to use bright sunlight, avoid placing the dish in direct sunlight, as this will cast harsh shadows and highlights, making it difficult to properly expose. Make sure that all indoor tungsten lights are turned off so that subject doesn’t cast two shadows, giving the scene a clearly staged, unnatural look. Additionally, be aware of any ambient lighting inside that might cast confusing colors or shadows over the set. Tungsten bulbs, the most common type found in household lamps, can give off a slightly yellow-tinted light, as they range from 2500 – 3500 degrees Kelvin, so they’re never a good choice when photographing food.

It’s generally a good idea to arrange your food with the window light shining in behind it, to act as a back light. This tends to be most flattering, as it gently showers soft shadows evenly over the front, from the angle which you’ll be capturing it. The sunlight can also work nicely at either side, but if the light is too bright, it will give the food an overly-dramatic feeling, much like split lighting for portrait photography. As a rule, I never place the food so that sunlight hits it from the front, for the same reason that I would suggest never using the flash built into your camera: It flattens out the subject, giving a “deer in headlights” appearance. Font-flash is as unflattering on inanimate objects as it is on people!

If you find that the shadows are too dark, there’s still no need to bring out a secondary source of light; carefully placed mirrors can be just as effective, not to mention the fact that they’re far more budget-friendly.  By adjusting the mirrors so that they bounce the sunlight back into the darkest areas of the subject, you’ll be able to keep the same natural, soft lighting all over, but bring out more detail in the textures that would otherwise become lost due to low light. In a pinch, you can fashion a close facsimile with aluminum foil covering a piece of cardboard, folded and propped up at your desired angle. The same technique can be used with white poster board, or even gold fabric reflectors, to lend a warmer hue to  the image.

On the other hand, should you find that your window light is too “hot,” meaning that it’s blowing out the detail in the highlights, you can very easily diffuse it with everyday household items. Taping a large sheet of white parchment paper over the entire window will soften the light very effectively, as long as you ensure that there are no gaps where the light can escape and create a dappled look on your subject.  If there’s just one small area of your food that’s too bright, you can use the opposite tack as you would with mirrors; Use a black card, or piece of cardboard covered in black construction paper, angled to block the offending highlights. These cards can be cut to any size needed, so they’re very versatile.

With experience, the proper lighting setup will become second nature. With just a bit of creativity and a willingness to experiment, you’ll be able to create food photos that look every bit as delicious as the pros. Once you learn to master the light already at your disposal, the only thing you’ll need is a sumptuous dish to feature, and you’ll be well on your way!


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Dip, Dip, Hooray

In the battle for snack supremacy, the competition is fierce, but a few front runners have emerged from the pack. Potential winners are obvious from any vantage point in the bleachers, if you just take a moment to look at the odds. Think back and try to remember the last time you attended a decent party that didn’t have a bottomless bowlful of hummus on display, for starters. And what would Taco Tuesday be without nacho cheese in ample supply- Maybe just Tortilla Tuesday? All bets are off when it comes to picking a winner between the two, but I think I have a solution that neither side would see as a compromise.

Nacho hummus, bearing all the cheesy, spicy decadence of a good queso dip with the more substantial heft of a chickpea spread. The two rivals complement and contrast one another with surprising ease, a natural union that has been long overdue.

Whether you smear it in a pita, thin it out to drizzle on corn chips, or just set it out with cut vegetable crudites and let the crowd go wild, it’s a fool-proof formula deserving of a gold medal.

Nacho Hummus

1 14-Ounce Can (or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained and Rinsed
1/2 Red Pepper, Seeded and Roasted, Chopped
1/3 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 Chipotle Pepper Packed in Adobo Sauce
1 Clove Garlic, Chopped
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoons Tahini
1 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 – 3/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
Thinly Sliced Scallions, to Garnish (Optional)

Like any other hummus variant, this dip couldn’t be easier or quicker to prepare. Toss the chickpeas, roasted red pepper, tomato paste, chipotle, and garlic, and lemon juice into your food processor. Pulse to being breaking down the ingredients and pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add in the tahini, mustard, and all the seasonings and spices, starting with just 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

Puree, and while the motor is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, until the mixture is silky-smooth and it reaches your desired consistency. If you’d like it to be more of a sauce than a spread, follow that with water or vegetable stock, as needed. Adjust the spice level to taste.

Top with sliced scallions and dip the day away!

Makes 6 – 10 Servings as an Appetizer

Printable Recipe


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Scary Good Sweets

’tis time! ’tis time!
Round about the caldron go;
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

Fear not, dear readers. The bubbling hell broth on my stove on this crisp October evening is not poison, nor calls for such unpleasant inclusions as eye of newt or baboon’s blood. Quite the contrary, the glowing orange brew cooking away on my fire lands distinctly on the opposite end of that spectrum, farm from poison, or similarly tricky “treats.”

Forget the laundry list of obscure magical inclusions. Candy is possible not only with simple everyday ingredients, but wholesome staples that wouldn’t spook the healthiest of goblins- Or their parents.

Pumpkin spice, straight to the point, possesses these gummy morsels with more than a merely haunting flavor. Spirited seasonal sweetness rings true in each chewy bite, casting an impossibly enchanting spell. Quantities may look small, but each batch produces a bountiful harvest of tiny pumpkin pieces, so there should be plenty to appease any hungry apparitions that arrive as the witching hour approaches. That said, they’re so quick and effortless to whip up, it may not be such a bad idea to stock up, before those charming costumed creatures turn into ravenous monsters.

This fearfully addictive snack was inspired and made possible by the devilish Pumpkin Spice Extract by Rodelle.

Pumpkin Spice Gummies

1/2 Cup Pumpkin Puree
1 Cup Apple Juice Concentrate
1 1/2 Tablespoons Agar Powder
1 Teaspoon Pumpkin Spice Extract or Pumpkin Spice Blend

Have four mini pumpkin candy molds at the ready, or a comparable shape. Alternately, you can line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with foil and plan to simply cut out gummy squares. Just be sure to lightly grease the foil before proceeding.

Whisk all of the ingredients in a small saucepan until smooth and set over medium heat. Stir gently but consistently; you should start to feel the mixture thicken almost instantly. Continue scraping the bottom and sides of the pan as you stir to prevent sticking or burning, until the mixture is sticky but spoonable. It will be so dense that it doesn’t quite come to a boil, but should bubble up around the edges quite a bit.

Smooth the mixture into your molds as quickly as possible, is the candy sets up very quickly. Let stand at room temperature until fully set; at least 20 – 30 minutes. Pop the pumpkins out of the molds and trim away any excess, if necessary. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for 5 – 7 days… If they don’t mysteriously disappear first…

Makes About 60 Mini Pumpkin Gummies

Printable Recipe