BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Smart Cookies

Baking burn-out is a real danger, especially as the annual holiday demand for festive cakes, sweet presents, and spirited pastries ramps up to a fever pitch. Smart scheduling is the key to success, and maintaining, sanity, but sometimes it’s downright impossible to account for last-minute additions to the baking agenda. By the time it’s all said and done, I’ll be predictably exhausted, and without a morsel of sweetness left for myself.

That’s why it was truly a gift to receive a bundle of NoMoo Cookies in the mail. These are not your standard mail order biscuits, formulated to withstand harsh shipping conditions and remain equally impervious to gnashing teeth. Every last variety is as soft and chewy as if it had just come out of the oven hours ago, only long enough to cool.

Formulated primarily as a dairy-free option for allergy sufferers, NoMoo has recently launched an entirely vegan line of treats to accommodate a wider range of cookie lovers. Short but truly sweet, there’s not a single dud on this tempting menu.

Despite my penchant for unusual flavors and wild combinations, I must admit that my very favorite morsels brought me right back to the simpler days of my childhood preferences: Chocolate and vanilla. Glittering flecks of crushed vanilla bean pods and seeds rest right on the surface of the Vanilla Bean Dream, genuinely celebrating the aromatic bean instead of relegating it to the bottom of the ingredient list. A deeply fragrant, floral vanilla cookie with buttery undertones, the quality of each note places it firmly in the realm of high-end bakery goods, far superior to the average sugar cookie. Similarly, the Loco for Coco boasts an impossibly deep, dark chocolate flavor, like a thick, fudgy brownie wrapped up in cookie form. Visible shards of flaky salt dance across the surface, enhancing without overwhelming the flavors within. Pardon the hyperbole, but I believe this may be one of the best cookies I’ve eaten all year. I truly wish I could steal this recipe.

The remaining palate of dessert delights won’t disappoint either. Chocolate Chills adds a hint of mint to the original chocolate format, rendering a bright, cool, and refreshing peppermint essence throughout. Sugah Cinnayum offers a gourmet update to the classic snickerdoodle, coated in crunchy coarse sugar and earthy, subtly smoky cinnamon spice. Raspberry Bliss is a colorful curiosity; adorned with a red dot matrix of freeze-dried raspberry dust, the dough itself appears a bit blue, thanks to the mingling of acidic berries and baking soda in the oven. Though lacking the tart bite of fresh raspberries, it’s certainly no slouch when it comes to fresh flavor, which is a truly impressive feat for any average cookie dough. Finally, the Classic Chipper and Oatmeal Choco-Chip stay close to their roots, providing nostalgic comforts for cookie purists near and far.

Based out of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, NoMoo Cookies can be delivered to a majority of the country in one to two business days, which means that it’s not too late to order up a batch as holiday gifts. Whether those presents are for friends and family, or just for you, they’re a guaranteed hit across even the pickiest panel of tasters.


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In the Zone

In this day and age, it’s stunning that there are still any lingering concerns about where vegans get their protein from. That said, not all sources are created equal, and I’m still a big fan of protein shakes for quick nutrition infusions on the go. The field is littered with failed attempts at appealing only to health nuts, and not necessarily their taste buds, so it’s with great trepidation that I would tempt fate and deviate from my tried-and-true rotation of powdered options.

Thank goodness I gave Pro(Zero) by HPN Supplements a try. Blending pea and rice protein with lou han guo and stevia for strength and sweetness, the label itself was unarguably impressive. Immediately dispelling my biggest textural fears, each shake mixed up beautifully in just a standard sports bottle. Silky smooth, not a lump nor clump in sight, it was ready to go with only water and a bit of elbow grease. Quite substantial without any sort of extras necessary, I found that one scoop easily kept me satisfied for hours, even through the most drawn out, late night classes.

Granted, it’s not a miracle mix. It continues to thicken as it sits, so it shouldn’t be blended in advance. Plus, it’s best served icy-cold; at room temperature, there are some vaguely fruity notes, a strained sweetness, and very slightly bitter aftertaste that come to the fore. The takeaway here is that as long as your shakes don’t sit around, you’ll still be sitting pretty!

Excited by this new protein-packed ingredient, I wanted to see what else it could do to supercharge some other snacks. With an eye to the holidays, it seemed like the perfect thing to turn into a festive, yet healthy indulgence.

Does anything say “indulgence” better than a vanilla bean-flecked bark, covered with toasted pistachios and sweetened dried cranberries?

Well, what about a thick slab of chocolate, dotted with crunchy crushed cacao nibs and a smattering of flaky sea salt?

Just because it’s classified as candy doesn’t mean it has to be unhealthy. I’d like to think that protein bark is the new protein bar, with an extra dose of holiday whimsy mixed in. Whether it’s a gift you give to friends and family or simply to yourself, it’s guaranteed to be in good taste!

Not all protein powders react the same when used in various recipes, so I would highly recommend stocking up on Pro(Zero) specifically this time around. Just for you, my sweet readers, order directly from HPN Supplements and get 10% off by using the coupon code “bittersweet”.

Protein Holiday Bark

Peppermint Cacao Bark:

6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Whipped Vanilla Protein Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs
Coarse or Flaky Sea Salt

Cranberry-Pistachio Bark:

1/2 Cup Refined Coconut Oil
1/2 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Whipped Vanilla Protein Powder
3 Tablespoons Confectioners’ Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Toasted, Unsalted Pistachios
1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries

For the Peppermint Cacao Bark, place the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe dish and heat at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each cycle, until completely melted. Add in the protein powder and peppermint extract, mixing thoroughly. Once the powder is completely incorporated, spread the mixture out on a piece of parchment paper or a silpat. Smooth it out as thinly as possible with a wide spatula; exact dimensions aren’t important.

Sprinkle the cacao nibs and a pinch of sea salt over the top, gently pressing the goodies into the surface so that they adhere. Place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes for the bark to solidify before breaking into pieces and enjoying.

For the Cranberry-Pistachio Bark, place the coconut oil in a microwave-safe dish and heat until liquefied. Add in the protein powder, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla paste or powder, and salt, stirring until the mixture is homogeneous. Allow it to sit in a cool place for about 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until it begins to thicken and solidify again. If you house is very warm, place it in the fridge for only 5 – 10 minutes, stirring every minute or so for the same effect.

Spread the mixture out on a piece of parchment paper or a silpat as thinly as possible with a wide spatula; exact dimensions aren’t important. Once smooth, sprinkle the pistachios and cranberries evenly over the top, gently pressing the goodies into the surface so that they adhere. Place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes for the bark to solidify before breaking into pieces and enjoying.

Store either rendition in an airtight container in the fridge or a cool place for up to a week.

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by HPN Supplements, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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From Blog to Book

No longer is it a rare feat to see talented bloggers bridging the gap between online text and printed, published prose, but it still takes an incredible amount of determination to successfully make the leap. Considering the wealth of creativity that exists out there in the blogosphere, I can’t imagine a better place to start scouting new authors. Among all of those young hopefuls, Richa Hingle of Vegan Richa always struck me as particularly deserving, so much so that I recall pestering her many years ago about creating her own cookbook already! Pulling from a seemingly inexhaustible trove of inspiration, her recipes stood out as being both familiar, with delicious reference points that were easy to understand, while simultaneously forging a new culinary path. Buffalo Chickpea Pizza? Cauliflower Sandwich Bread? Why didn’t I think of that?

Now showcasing her unique flare for the Indian cooking that began her passion for food, Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen is a breath of fresh air on the crowded bookshelf of new cookbook releases. Humbly claiming to have no formal culinary training, this very approach is what makes Richa’s recipes so compelling. They don’t put an on airs or devolve into confusing procedures with unknown ingredients. While Indian food is still somewhat intimidating to the casual cook, Richa does wonders to demystify the complex flavors of myriad curries, easily guiding the willing reader to all new edible delights.

Kicking things off with a hearty breakfast offering, the Savory Oat Hash (Kanda Poha) on page 27 was just my speed. Oats always make an appearance at day break around here, regardless of seasons or holidays. There’s no reason why the whole grain staple needs to be plain and dull, though. Richa’s approach kicks up the classic to a whole new level; spicy, savory flavors reinvent the old fashioned oat. Textural issues can be one of the biggest pitfalls to preparing this temperamental grain, but none of that struggle was evident here. Comforting, easy to eat, but not the least bit mushy, it was an invigorating change of pace to the typical morning routine.

Seeking ways to use up a considerable stockpile of quinoa, the Potato Quinoa Patties (Aloo Tikki) on page 40 immediately leapt out as a “must make.” Employing red quinoa rather than white, the results were as visually impressive as they were crave-worthy. The spud-based batter was surprisingly easy to work with, holding together beautifully all through the process of pan frying and effortlessly developing a crisp, golden crust around the edges. An incredibly moist, tender interior lurked just beneath the surface, boasting a nuanced, harmonious blend of spices, much more complex than I would have managed solo with my default mix. Paired with a simple chickpea curry, I had myself a complete meal in no time at all. This recipe is a definite keeper, to be made again many times over.

Intrigued by the unconventional blend of curry and puff pastry, I simply couldn’t resist giving the Makhani Vegetable Pot Pie on page 132 a try. Though I feared that the filling appeared impossibly soupy at first, a terrible miscalculation of liquid additions, it thickened beautifully after cooling. For anyone with a more timid palate, or those still uneasy about exotic flavors, this should be the gateway to Indian cooking. Mild overall and subtly sweet, the melange of spices, rich coconut gravy, and fresh vegetables should make this an easy crowd-pleaser, no matter the audience. Plus, when using frozen puff pastry to crown the dish, you’d be hard-pressed to craft a quicker, more impressive meal.

Granted, perhaps you should take my words with a grain of salt, and a big pinch of cumin while you’re at it. Richa has been a dear blog buddy for longer than I can recall, and her cookbook was offered to me free of charge. Why should you take my words of praise at face value? Quite frankly, if you missed out on the opportunity to taste even a single dish from Richa’s Vegan Kitchen, you would be doing yourself, and your taste buds, a terrible disservice.


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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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Sharp Relief

Ask any chef about the most important tool in their arsenal, and despite constant influx of new cooking technology, their response is invariably the same: The chef’s knife. It’s not the only ingredient in a properly equipped kitchen, but without it, nothing is possible. It’s a shame then that it’s so frequently taken for granted. Used every day without a second thought, abused on hard coconut shells and allowed to grow pitifully dull, I’m just as guilty as anyone. My Global knife has served me well for years, but when I was approached by Ergo Chef with the opportunity to try a new blade, I quickly realized that even at the same price point, all knives are not created equal.

The Crimson Series, so named for the rich red fiberglass handles, boasts a truly beautiful 8-inch chef’s knife that is nothing short of a delight to hold. Living up to the promise of an ergonomic design, it feels as though it was made for my hand, comfortable enough to slice and dice for hours on end. The whole piece is incredibly well balanced too, bearing down with a solid heft without actually feeling heavy. Perhaps most importantly, that blade is sharp as a razor, effortlessly slicing through any foodstuffs in its path without any drag to speak of.

When the most mundane of tasks like chopping vegetables can become a genuine pleasure, it revolutionizes the whole cooking experience. A simple knife upgrade can do that, and this is definitely one worth investing in.


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Veni, Vidi, Videri

Why do people save the best for last? As one of those people, I’m not sure I can fully explain the compulsion to leave the very best bite for the end of the meal, or my favorite song for the end of a playlist. This very same impulse to delay gratification seems to get me in trouble at times, particularly when the end is not something clearly defined. Such is the case for many product reviews, languishing on my to-do list simply because the item in question was so good, I want to reserve it as a final reward. In realistic terms though, this just means that the post never gets written because an active blog never ends. That’s the only excuse I can come up with for explaining why these stellar chocolates remained without a proper feature for over two years.

Packaged lovingly with handwritten, individual numbers, one could easily mistake these for jewelry boxes rather than containers for edible treats. Crafted in small batches in Raleigh, North Carolina, Videri is one of the few American bean-to-bar operations. Not all of the offerings are vegan, but the dairy-free options will not leave you wanting. Defined by a clean, crisp snap and smooth melting texture, even a small square promises to satisfy the most voracious chocoholic.

Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt is an instant winner. Large flakes of salt are easily visible on the underside of each bar, immediately hitting the tongue with a strong saline hit. This serves to balance out the overall sweetness beautifully, while eliminating any bitter notes typically associated with dark chocolate.

Classic Dark Chocolate with 70% cacao is the everyday sort of treat that goes well with everything. Slightly woodsy with notes of raisin, the complexity packed into this little bar reminded me of tasting a fine wine.

90% Ecuadorian Dark Chocolate is a seasonal special, and one that you’ll definitely want to take advantage of while you still can. Dry, with a pleasantly bitter edge and slightly tannic aftertaste, this bold bar is not for the timid. Crushing sugar cravings without piling on the sweetness, these powerful chocolates became my secret weapon for vanquishing a snack attack.

Gifted with this wealth of cacao goodness, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take them into the kitchen for a bit of sweet experimentation. Especially in the heat of summer, peppermint patties are one of my favorite treats. Best stashed in the freezer for full cooling effect, I love the way the chocolate shell shatters upon impact, revealing a soft, creamy center with minty fresh flavor. The only thing that could be improved is perhaps the ratio of chocolate to peppermint, which is why I decided to flip the classic patty inside-out. Now, a solid chocolate center is graced by a blanket of white peppermint coating, allowing the chocolate to truly shine.

Inside-Out Peppermint Patties

Chocolate Centers:

6 Ounces 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup

Mint Coating:

1/2 Cup (4 Ounces) 100% Cocoa Butter
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/8 Teaspoon Peppermint Oil

To form the centers, place the chopped chocolate and corns syrup in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for about 60 seconds. Stir vigorously, and continue to heat at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well each time, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and refrigerate until set; about 1 hour.

Roll the chocolate disk out to about 1/4-inch thick and use 1-inch round cookie cutters to punch out the candy pieces. Should the chocolate dough become too soft or difficult to work with, just toss it back in the fridge for another 15 – 30 minutes before proceeding. Once all of the center are cut, stash them in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before getting to work on the coating.

Place your cocoa butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 – 3 minutes, so that it completely liquefies. Whisk in the confectioner’s sugar and mint oil, stirring vigorously to make sure that everything is completely dissolved.

Pull out your semi-frozen patties and dip each into the mint coating, one at a time. Place them back on the silpat, allowing the coating to set. This top coat is thinner than the standard pure chocolate shell, so you may wish to double-dip once the first layer has solidified.

Makes 30 – 34 Patties

Printable Recipe


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A Better Bistro

“Elevated cuisine” is not the bill of fare one might expect to come out of a shoe-box of a food trailer parked in the outskirts of east Austin, and yet Bistro Vonish seems determined to defy such preconceived notions. Redefining the category of fine dining through the lens of a classically trained vegan chef, Craig Vanis isn’t your ordinary line cook either. Propelled by a basic desire to feed others and express his creativity, his true inspirations are diverse, interwoven into the tangle of modern food politics and nutrition. “Food touches everyone, more than just micro nutrients,” he explained to me over a plate of three sisters ragu, a vibrant melange of summer vegetables crowning crispy seared polenta cakes. Clearly, none of this philosophy clouds the flavors in world-class dishes like this one, presented with equal flare on the ever-changing menu.

In sharp contrast to his current surroundings, Chef Craig first found himself in Texas to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer in the oil fields. Laid off after the 2009 economy collapse, that marked a turning point that began in Houston kitchens and ultimately led him back for professional training at the Natural Epicurean School in Austin. This complex path is perhaps what gives the food at Bistro Vonish such a clear and unique voice; there’s no one else with the same formative experiences, and certainly none quite so fervently determined to pursue their passions in the food industry.

Showcasing more than just impeccable cooking skills, the local, organic, seasonal produce dictates the daily offerings. Weekend brunches are a distinct treat, featuring pillowy french toast with homemade fruit syrups, and savory tofu scrambles that would put a plate of eggs to shame.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg, and only the start of greater aspirations for Bistro Vonish. Chef Craig plans to expand into a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant as soon as possible, enlivened with tempting menus that echo the successes of supper clubs past. While it will be difficult to wait for this upcoming new chapter in the Bistro Vonish saga, Chef Craig was generous enough to share his recipe for Grapefruit Panna Cotta; a sweet finale to tide us over until the next meal.


Photo by Craig Vanis

Grapefruit Panna Cotta
by Chef Craig Vanis of Bistro Vonish

1 (13.5-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Agar Powder
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1/2 Grapefruit
1/2 Cup Grapefruit Juice
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
6 Ounces Silken Tofu
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Simmer the coconut milk with the agar powder and sugar for approximately 10 – 15 minutes, to thoroughly cook and dissolve the agar. Blend the simmered liquid with the rest of the ingredients until creamy and smooth. Pour into lightly greased molds or ramekins to set; at least three hours or until firm. Chill thoroughly before serving.

Gently remove from molds and serve with the accompaniments of your choice. Suggestions include candied and fried sage, orange liqueur syrup, and tuile cookies.

Printable Recipe

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