BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Go Big or Go Bake

Six ounces of flour, sugar, chocolate, and nuts. Tipping the scales at almost a half pound of dough, the chocolate chips cookies from Levain Bakery in NYC are infamous for good reason. Instantly recognizable, these behemoth baked goods have inspired a cult-like following and countless imitators over the years. Size alone sets them apart from the pack, but it’s the distinctive combination of the very best textural aspects of America’s favorite chewy cookie that cements their place in popular culture. Crisp on the outside, each miniature mountain is tanned golden brown from a blazing hot oven, yet still nearly raw and luxuriously gooey on the inside. If the mere mental image of that sort of decadence doesn’t send your sweet tooth into overdrive, then perhaps you should check your pulse.

Copycat formulas are a dime a dozen as just a cursory internet search will show. Some remain more faithful than others, and I will shamelessly declare mine a vast departure from the inspiration. Naturally, translating the concept into vegan vernacular takes the results out of the running for best doppelgangers, so I saw no harm in taking a few more flavorful liberties from there.

Levain Bakery makes a big fuss about stripping down their dough to the bare essentials, omitting even vanilla extract, which quite frankly strikes me as a crime against all cookies. Also, rather than sticking with the traditionally prescribed walnuts, cashews add a more buttery crunch to my mixture. Finally, and I must apologize to the Levain Bakery fanatics here, but I simply didn’t have the gustatory fortitude to form my balls of batter into full six-ounce cookie bombs. Knocking them down to a mere quarter pound still yielded enormous treats will all the right ratios, but in ever so slightly more manageable portions.

If this is your first introduction to the iconic cookie, consider yourself warned: Each one is truly a mouthful. For the jaded eater who thinks that all chocolate chip cookies are more or less the same, I dare you to try just one bite while maintaining a straight face. Something as universally adored as the classic chocolate chip cookie truly needs no further explanation, so for all those voracious bakers who have already skipped on to the recipe, I don’t blame you. All anyone really needs to know is that you’re in for a treat.

Levain Look-Alike Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Cup Vegan Butter, at Room Temperature
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Vital Wheat Gluten
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Cashews, Toasted and Roughly Chopped

Place the vegan butter in the bowl of your stand mixer and begin beating it on low speed to soften. Add in both sugars and cream together until completely homogeneous, pausing as needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Slowly pour in the aquafaba, vanilla, and vinegar, blending thoroughly to incorporate. It may look somewhat strange and curdled at this point, but don’t worry as long as the it’s well mixed.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, vital wheat gluten, salt, baking powder and soda. Add the dry ingredients into the stand mixer bowl and start it on low speed. Once mostly incorporated, add in chocolate and nuts, and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and all of the goodies are properly distributed.

Stash the dough in the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour before proceeding.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line 3 – 4 baking sheets with slipats or parchment paper.

Scoop out about 1/3 cup of dough for each cookie, roll the dough lightly between moistened palms into round balls, and do NOT flatten them out. Allow a generous margin of space between each mound on the baking sheets; at least 1 1/2 – 2 inches of breathing room in between the cookies.

Bake for 10 – 14 minutes, until lightly golden brown all over. Quickly remove the silpats from the hot baking sheets as soon as they emerge from the oven and let cool completely. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week… If you can resist them that long.

Makes About 16 Giant Cookies

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Open Sesame

Just think: Every time you blend up a new batch of hummus, sprinkle on the finishing touch to a bagel headed into the oven, or slather your morning toast with a savory spread, you’re partaking in the oldest oil seed crop known to humanity. The sesame seed truly is an ancient wonder that’s managed to stay as relevant as ever in modern life. You might reasonably imagine that this old dog no longer has any new tricks left up its sleeve, but if so, you’d be dead wrong.

Taking on the Simply Sesame Blogger Recipe Challenge was no challenge at all, given the subtle but transformative new twists presented by Simply Sesame. Each spread contained a wealth of rich, warm sesame flavor, but one in particular will continue to haunt my memories. The unconventional combination of crisp, nutty pistachios with a subtle undercurrent of spicy cardamom flavor immediately leapt out at me from my very first taste. It didn’t take much effort to find fresh inspiration from this primeval paste.

Infusing sesame essence throughout each soft, tender crumb, these are no mere snack cakes. Though baked rather than fried like traditional doughnuts, each bite is so rich and full of flavor that you’d never dream of adding another drop of oil. Freshly toasted pistachios add another dimension of roasted aroma, not to mention a satisfying crunch every now and then. Cardamom continues to sing quietly in the background; just enough to add a certain something special, without necessarily shouting its name from the rooftops.

Top the whole treat off with a gossamer-thin glaze enhanced simply with delicate vanilla bean flecks, and it’s impossible to resist the complete package. As soon as they emerged from the quick icing dip, I regretted making only a single batch.

Consider this the least challenging “challenge” on the entire internet. I dare you to take it yourself, but be warned; no other mere tahini will ever quite measure up again. Keep in touch with Simply Sesame through Facebook, Twitter, and Instgram for the contest results and more delicious inspirations.

Baked Sesame-Pistachio Doughnuts

1 1/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Toasted Pistachios, Chopped
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Cup Simply Sesame with Pistachio Morsels
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Vanilla Bean Glaze:

1 1/4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1 – 3 Tablespoons Water

Dragees or Sprinkles to Garnish (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a standard doughnut pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, chopped pistachios, baking powder and soda, salt, and cardamom. Thoroughly combine to distribute all of the ingredients equally throughout the mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine the Simply Sesame with Pistachio Morsels with the non-dairy milk, sesame oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Once smooth, pour these liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to incorporate. Mix just until the batter is smooth.

Either transfer the batter to a piping bag to dispense it cleanly into the prepared baking pan, or simply use a spoon to carefully distribute it between the six indentations. Leave it slightly mounded up towards to center of the rings, rather than smoothing it out.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers of the cakes comes out clean. Cool completely before preparing the glaze.

For the glaze, simply whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla paste, and 1 tablespoon of water. Continue slowly drizzling in additional water water until it reaches your desired consistency. Dip each doughnut into the glaze, allowing the excess to drip off, and apply dragees or sprinkles to your heart’s content.

Makes 6 Doughnuts

Printable Recipe


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Steamy Secrets

It’s remarkable how the most ubiquitous, seemly mundane ingredients can be utterly transformed with a fresh perspective. For example, eggplants show up in nearly every culture, every grocery store, and every cookbook. For the wide range of varieties available across the world, accompanied by the distinctive palate of flavors that each locale prefers, there’s truly an eggplant preparation for everyone. Despite the abundance of options, it seems we’re drawn back to the same recipes time and again, sticking to the familiar for the sake of simplicity. That was certainly the case for me, which is why the promise of an all-eggplant cooking class held both intrigue and skepticism. What new was there to learn about this staple vegetable that I naively presumed had already divulged its culinary secrets long ago?

The one way I would never have attempted to cook an eggplant turned out to be one of the most revolutionary. Believe it or not, steaming these burnished violet nightshades created one of the most superlative eggplant dishes to hit my plate in years. Previously ignorant to this dramatic metamorphosis, the idea of steamed eggplant sounded about as appealing as stewed gym socks. On the contrary, the softened and shredded fruit is downright silky, luxuriously caressing the tongue with unexpected richness.

Hailing from China, this unsung hero of eggplant cookery comes to life with an impossibly creamy glaze of toasted sesame, soy sauce, vinegar, and a gentle kick of heat. Such complex flavors seem to contradict the simple procedure, but that’s the true beauty of this secret formula. This radical departure from the standard menu was right there all along, hidden in plain sight

Beijing-Style Steamed Eggplant with Sesame Sauce
by Chef Philip Gelb

2 Chinese Eggplants, Halved Lengthwise
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Teaspoons Light Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Black Vinegar
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Palm Sugar
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 Tablespoon Chili Paste (Optional)
1 Thinly Sliced Scallion, to Garnish

Steam the eggplants for 10 – 15 minutes, until very tender. Meanwhile, combine all the remaining ingredients for the sauce in a large bowl.

Let the eggplants cool for a few minutes so that you can handle them comfortably, and then use your hands to tear them into long strips.

Toss the eggplants with the sauce and top with scallion. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Lady Marmalade

Batten down the hatches and hide the good porcelain; the holidays are here again. Ready or not, Thanksgiving hits in just over a week, throwing cooks and eaters across the country into a predictable annual frenzy. If your menu is already planned and locked down, you’re probably sick of reading the incessant recipe suggestions churning out of every food publication, online, in print, on TV, over the radio waves, and beyond. If you’ve been remiss in your advanced preparations, your blood pressure is probably spiking to greater heights with every mention of yet another overly complicated, time consuming new dish to consider adding to the elaborate affair.

Let’s take it back a step, shall we? Eight days is still plenty of time from either perspective, whether you need to get your act together or just stick to the script. No matter what, you’ve still gotta eat in the meantime.

There’s enough to stress about without adding another random recipe into the mix, so I’m not saying this is one for the Thanksgiving table. It does just happen to fit the theme beautifully, incorporating seasonal root vegetables into an easy condiment that would be just as home atop crackers as it would alongside your festive roast of choice. Ruby red, it glistens with the same luminosity as cranberry sauce, but shines with an entirely unique earthy yet sweet and zesty flavor. Beet marmalade was one of our top selling items at Health in a Hurry, and it remains a nostalgic favorite of mine. It’s the one single dish that I can point to that finally converted me from beet hater to lover.

I deeply regret not writing down that secret formula before the restaurant closed, but the good news is that it’s such a simple concept, it doesn’t take much effort to recreate a very close proxy. Caramelized onions lay down a rich, savory baseline, while jazzy orange peel hits the high notes, complimented by the sweetness of maple syrup. Perhaps an unlikely combination on paper, the final flavor sings with a resonance that far exceeds the sum of its parts.

I’m not saying you should save it for Thanksgiving… But I’m not saying it would be a bad guest at the table, either.

Beet Marmalade

4 Medium Red Beets
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion, Sliced
1 Large Orange, Zested and Juiced
2 Tablespoons 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beets up in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered, and roast for about an hour, or until fork tender. Let cool before peeling. If they’re cooked properly, the skins should just rub right off with a bit of pressure.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat and add in the sliced onion. Cook gently, stirring frequently, for 30 – 40 minutes, until deeply caramelized and almost silky in texture. Add in the orange juice about halfway through, and reduce the heat if necessary to prevent burning.

Roughly chop the cooked beets and place them in your food processor along with the caramelized onions. Add in the maple syrup and salt. Lightly pulse all of the ingredients together until broken down and thoroughly combined but still quite chunky.

Serve warm or chilled, as a dip or topping for crackers, a condiment on the dinner table, or as a spread with bread.

Makes about 2 Cups

Printable Recipe


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Flying High on Plants

No one looks forward to being locked in an airborne tin can, strapped down at an unnatural acute angle for hours on end, and that’s to say nothing of the hoops to jump through to qualify for such abuse in the first place. Yet we all accept these offenses as the necessary evils of air travel; small, cumulative personal injustices that must be suffered for the prize of a new adventure. On the bright side, this mild form of torture makes the joy of arrival all the greater, if only for the relief that comes from getting out of that maddening contraption.

Every small pleasure found in this unpleasant process is thus magnified, savored with aplomb, in hopes of turning down the volume on the rest of that logistical cacophony. for this reason alone, it’s worth the extra hassle whenever I book a flight out of SFO, because that means I can at least find a good meal while waiting at the gate.

It’s true: There’s fresh, healthy, and satisfying food to be found in an airport! The Plant Cafe Organic lays claim to many outposts across the bay area, but ironically, this inaccessible, highly guarded location is the one I stop by most often. Every time, the only thing I ever want is a pile of delicious produce, and every time, the understated yet dazzling grapefruit and avocado salad delivers.

Thankfully, there’s no need to subject yourself to such pain for such gustatory gratification, nor schlep out all the way to that isolated airport terminal, either. It turns out that while the sharply unpleasant contrasts surrounding this small morsel of pleasure do enhance the experience to a degree, it’s even more enjoyable when eaten at leisure, sprawled on the couch at home, preferably clad in completely unflattering sweatpants and slippers.

Something about the acidic, subtly sweet citrus, creamy avocado, and crunchy macadamia nuts make this salad utterly unforgettable. Don’t just take my word for it, because I’m afraid I can’t do it full justice in a few short sentences. It’s just too good to fully explain in words. This simple, invigorating combination will brighten the darkest of post-daylight savings time evenings.

Avocado Grapefruit Salad

Macadamia Nut Dressing:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons White Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Scallions, Sliced
1/4 Cup Raw Macadamia Nuts
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Salad:

8 Cups Arugula
2 Cups Thinly Sliced Fennel
1 Large Pink Grapefruit, Sliced into Segments
1 Large, Ripe Avocado, Sliced
1/3 Cup Toasted Macadamia Nuts, Roughly Chopped
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

The procedure is pretty much self explanatory once you glance through the ingredient list, but here goes. Toss all of the ingredients for the dressing into your blender or food processor and puree on high, until creamy and completely smooth. Toss the dressing with the arugula and fennel, and divide the greens between 2 or 3 bowls. Top with equal amounts of grapefruit, avocado, and macadamia nuts. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper if needed, and enjoy.

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

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Smooth-Talker (With a Matcha Giveaway!)

Making the leap from blender to bowl, smoothies are no longer strictly liquid nourishment. Morning, noon, or night, it’s time to put away the straws and break out the spoons. Acai bowls paved the way for this natural evolution, but smoothie bowls are entirely unique creations, free from the constraints of the typical toppings or construction. Browse through instagram for a few seconds, and you’ll see a full spectrum of colors, layers, textures, and sometimes even actual glitter fill your screen. These run the gamut from austere to more indulgent than chocolate custard, so as with most other edible art forms, the real struggle is finding a happy balance between the two.

For me, that means going green, but not in the predictable way. Kale, spinach, and collards alike are mainstays in my meals, but not in my blender. The green smoothie movement is one that i could never fully embrace, simply because I couldn’t rationalize adding ingredients that didn’t contribute positive flavors to the mix, but rather, unfavorable tastes that would need to be covered up or otherwise compensated for. Green is great, but when it comes to smoothies, matcha is always my favorite source.

Enthusiasts will agree that there’s no wrong way to enjoy this verdant powdered tea leaf, but many are missing out on matcha’s full flavor potential. Did you know that there are numerous different grades of the emerald superfood, which vary greatly in flavor and potency? Separated into three distinct categories, it may be difficult to suss out when it’s best to employ ceremonial matcha, culinary matcha, or any of the shades of green in between.

Contrary to my first naive assumption, it turns out that culinary matcha is not actually of lower quality, and in fact contributes a stronger tea flavor to baked goods, as it’s better suited to withstand the heat of the oven. Ceremonial grades possess greater nuances, best to sip, savor, and carefully contemplate. Each one tells it’s own story, so carefully calibrated through every step of processing, that no two batches will taste precisely the same.

If you’ve never experienced the glorious green joy that comes with the full spectrum of matcha, you’re in luck. Matchaworks offers three wholly unique options to keep you steeped in good taste from morning to night- Or whenever the caffeine wears off. Picking between the trio might seem like an overwhelming decision to make, but today, you may not have to. Matchaworks has generously offered to send one lucky reader a bundle of all their tasteful teas: Japanese ceremonial grade, ceremonial grade, and culinary grade.

You must be a resident of the US to be eligible for this gift, and don’t forget to get social!¬†Interact with Matchaworks on¬†Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and then hop on over to the OFFICIAL GIVEAWAY PAGE to make your entry count.

No matter how your brew or blend it up, green is always good when it means matcha!


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Thai One On For Size

What is your personal litmus test when judging a new restaurant? Is it the spaghetti marinara at a place touting homemade pasta? The scallion pancakes at a dim sum joint? Hopefully it’s something common, found across all menus, to best compare, since the simplest dishes are the most telling. It takes attention to detail, consideration for ingredients, and true skill to make the basics stand out within a sea of similar options. Perhaps it’s unfair to appraise an eatery based on their drinks, but for me, Thai restaurants live or die by their Thai tea.

Traditionally made with copious amounts of syrupy dairy mixed in, simply finding a vegan brew can be quite a feat. If you’re willing to swap coconut milk and sugar for the sweetened condensed milk, you’ve already won a gold star by my assessment. Honestly, it doesn’t take much to convert this special treat, and yet surprisingly few think to offer such flexibility in the first place. It wouldn’t be such an issue if I could just whip up a big pot of it at home, but like all things that seem deceptively simple, hitting those same sweet, subtly spicy notes had proven elusive through exhaustive trials.

Mixes exist for those who want the authentic flavor without any of the extra work, but there’s no way around those pesky artificial colors. While I can’t promise that my unique blend would pass the standard litmus test, I’m quite pleased to say that it will do the trick when a craving hits.

That’s especially true when those same flavors enliven a cool and refreshing glass of chia pudding. Coconut milk thickened with yogurt and sweetened with a restrained hand top off this healthy reinterpretation, suitable for breakfast, snack, and dessert alike. Celyon or assam tea would be most traditional for this application, if you can get your hands on either, but let’s be honest: True “authenticity” goes out the window as soon as a home cook picks up the whisk. In this case, I’d argue that might be a very good thing indeed.

No one will think that this take on Thai tea came from the latest and greatest restaurant on the block, but it sure does satisfy the craving in a whole new way.

Thai Tea Chia Parfaits

3 1/2 Cups Water
1 Tablespoon Black Tea
1 Tablespoon Rooibos Tea
1 Whole Star Anise
1 Green Cardamom Pod
2 Whole Cloves
1/2 Teaspoon Tamarind Concentrate
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/2 Cup Coconut Palm Sugar or Light Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Cup Whole Chia Seeds

1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Cup Vegan Vanilla Coconut Milk Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar

To make the pudding, you’ll first need to make strongly brewed of Thai tea. You’re welcome to use a prepared mix in place of the tea leaves and spices, but for anyone who doesn’t have access to such luxuries or doesn’t have it on hand in time to satisfy urgent cravings, this blend of black and rooibos tea will do the trick. Heat the water in a medium saucepan along with both teas. Lightly smash the whole spices with the side of your knife to help release their flavors before adding them all in, along with the tamarind concentrate and turmeric. Cover and bring the mixture just to the brink of boiling.

Stir in the sugar, turn off the heat, and keep covered. Let steep for at least 30 minutes, undisturbed. The longer the tea steeps, the more flavorful it will be, but let it sit for no more than 2 hours to prevent the more bitter compounds of the tea from being released.

Strain out the leaves and whole spices before stirring in the vanilla extract and chia seeds. Let the chia seeds begin to hydrate and absorb the liquid, and stir again after 15 minutes to break up any clumps. Divide the mixture between 4 – 6 glasses and place them into the fridge. Chill thoroughly, for at least 2 – 3 hours, before serving.

Right before serving, mix together the coconut milk, yogurt, and agave. Drizzle it over the top of each chia pudding and lightly swirl it in. Don’t blend it entirely for the most striking effect, and the most satisfying flavor contrast.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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