BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Bursting with Flavor

It was a warm summer day, just like any other, when I boarded a plane in Austin with a bomb in my luggage.

No, scratch that: Dozens, if not hundreds, of tiny little bombs, all packed neatly in my carry-on bag. Rest assured that security was no slouch, pulling me aside to examine the explosive contents, but still I slid through without much incident. Before I incite mass panic here, let me clarify that these bombs were only of the edible variety, bursting with energy and flavor, rather than actual firepower.

Returning home from a food-focused convention, I still felt like I was getting away with robbery, if not a greater crime of terrorism. Enjoy Life Foods had been one of the very few vegan sponsors and at the end of the event, unloaded nearly their entire supply of uneaten samples into my hungry hands. Yes, untold numbers of the brand new ProBurst Energy Bites were now mine to savor, if only I could transport them back across state lines. Though the physical weight was considerable, there’s nothing I won’t do for good food… Even if the x-ray results looked mighty questionable, and TSA cross-examination is never a fun addition to the travel agenda.

Think of the classic Larabar composition of a blended nut-and-seed bar but considerably less chewy, chop it up into bite-sized pieces, and drench the whole thing in chocolate, and you might get a vague idea of the goodness that goes into each little nugget. Each of the four flavors straddles the thin line that separates dessert from snack, pulling in impressive nutritional numbers while handily satisfying the most demanding sweet tooth.

Adventurous flavor combinations further distinguish these treats from the wide variety of energy bars already flooding the marketplace. Mango Habanero and Cranberry Orange are slightly less conventional pairings, yet there’s not a loser between them. SunSeed Butter offers nut-free peanut butter doppelganger, and my personal favorite, Cinnamon Spice, adds a balanced warmth to the dark chocolate foundation.

Although it seemed like an absurd haul at the time, guaranteed to last a lifetime for any reasonable snacker, it was a sad day when my supply finally ran dry. Thank goodness these bites are finally available for retail purchase– Especially if it means I won’t need to secretly smuggle them back home in bulk anymore.


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Beeting the Odds

To everyone who survived 2016 in more or less one piece: You deserve a drink. Each passing year seems especially intense right as we prepare for the next, the most news-worthy events still fresh, stinging wounds that have yet to heal. It’s the immediacy, the fact that we’re still so close to it all, that each lurid detail snaps to mind with painful clarity. That said, this one struck me as a particularly difficult slog, through all the losses, ugly politics, and general malaise that the entire world is still struggling to overcome.

Impossibly, inexplicably, some facets of these tragedies give me hope. The worst can also bring out the best in people, and I’ve seen some incredible acts of kindness, courage, and inspiration as a result. There’s still so much to celebrate, and I sure as hell am not going to let anyone stop me from moving forward with optimism, no matter the situation. The key here is community, supporting one another in the darkest of days, which is why my festive drink of the season is one made for a crowd.

Beets sound like a terrible idea for a cocktail, granted, but their natural sweetness and mellow earthy flavors ground the mixture in a comforting, satisfying way. Brighter citrus flavors lift up the taste buds, singing with unexpected harmony, elevated by the effervescence of champagne. The essential inspiration for the combination came from Stirrings, in the form of a challenge to use their mixers in new and innovative ways. This is my entry into the contest, and I’m looking forward to raising a glass with all of the other celebratory entries sure to come. You can keep up with them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Stirrings can be found at Bevmo, Total Wines & More, Draegers, Mollie Stones, Hi Time Liquors, Pacific Ranch Market, Daniels Market, and Bristol Farms stores.

In the face of these challenges and unresolved, unsettling cliffhangers, I turn to 2017 and say: Bring it on. Do your worst. If we could manage this past year, we can tackle anything. So join me in raising a glass to celebrate the successes and failures alike, to move forward to a brighter New Year. After all, I have faith that with such perspective underneath our belts, it can only get better from here.

Beet to the Punch

1 Cup Stirrings Lemon Drop Cocktail Mix
3/4 Cup Golden Beet Juice*
2/3 Cup Orange Liqueur
3 Cups Hard Apple Cider
3 Cups Champagne or Sparkling White Wine
Spiralized Golden Beets, to Garnish (Optional)

*To make the beet juice without a juicer, start with at least 2 cups of raw, peeled golden beets. Chop them roughly and place them in a high-speed blender with just enough water to allow the blades to spin freely. Puree completely, until entirely smooth. Pass the resulting blend through a very fine-mesh sieve or nutmilk bag and extract as much liquid as possible. Discard or reserve the pulp for another use.

Combine all the ingredients in a large punch bowl with a ladle for guests to help themselves. Serve over ice. Garnish individual glasses with spiralized beets, if desired.

Makes 10 – 14 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Cacao Concerto

To talk of decadent white chocolate treats but withhold all the corresponding recipes would be terribly cruel.

Inspired by the myriad shades of chocolate that color the culinary world, I wanted to create a cookie that celebrated as many facets of these revered beans as possible. Not just in chips or chunks, but in powdered format, and even sticky syrup too. The results came out exceptionally tender, chewy beyond my wildest dreams, and utterly, thoroughly, chocolatey. Though I would never tempt fate to suggest that these darker, richer morsels could replace traditional chocolate chip cookies altogether… Let’s just say that the classics have some serious competition to contend with now.

Chocolate Quartet Cookies

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Chunks
1/4 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
2/3 Cup Natural Chocolate Syrup
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with either parchment paper or silpats.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, and salt so that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Add in both kinds of chocolate chips and toss to coat.

Separately, combine the chocolate syrup, oil, and vanilla. Stir well, and then add the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Using a wide spatula, mix just enough to bring the batter together smoothly. Portion out cookies with a medium-sized ice cream scoop, and place them with at least 1 1/2 inches between each cookie on your prepared baking sheet. They spread out to become sizable cookies, so I usually bake about 8 or 9 per sheet.

Flatten them out slightly with lightly moistened hands, and bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until barely browned around the edges and no longer shiny on top. They may looks a bit underdone, but they will continue to bake once removed from the oven, and you want to keep them nice and chewy. Let the cookies rest on the sheets for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Makes 16 – 20 Large Cookies

Printable Recipe


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A-Maize-Ing

Put down the pumpkin spice latte. Step away from the Halloween decorations. Summer isn’t over yet, for crying out loud! The kids may be back in school, but the days are still bright and warm, full of the very same glorious produce we were enjoying mere days ago. Why rush into the next season while there’s still so much to enjoy in this one?

Case in point: fresh corn. There’s simply nothing else like it, and it can never compare when purchased off-peak. Now is the time to get your fill or hold your peace for another year. That means an ear of corn a day by my estimate, if not more. I simply can’t get enough of the stuff, crisp and sweet, straight off the cob with a light pinch of salt.

Fresh corn doesn’t stick around long though; what remains after the height of the season is but a shadow of its former glory. Watery, starchy, a waste of valuable stomach real estate, corn eaten any other time of year guarantees disappointment. As threats of the approaching seasonal shift grow louder, it’s simply not enough to enjoy a few bites a day. To really get a proper fix that will hold you for a full year, you can’t hold back.

That’s why my current favorite corn preparation not only involves tossing crisp kernels with supple strands of homemade pasta, but incorporates the very essence of corn right into the noodles themselves. That’s right; fresh corn pasta.

No more difficult to fabricate than any other dough, this unique formula incorporates both whole corn and cornmeal along with the standard wheat flour base, yielding a satisfying, toothsome structure with a genuinely flavorful soul. No one could ever accuse this noodle of being bland, even when eaten straight out the boiling water.

The best way to do justice to such a simple, pure product is to leave it alone. In essence: don’t screw up a good thing. Toss the cooked noodles with good olive oil or just the barest veil of pesto, along with a handful of fresh seasonal vegetables, and let it do the rest of the work. Such unique noodles are special enough to speak for themselves, much like superlative fresh corn does in the first place.

Anyone else out there still clinging to summer, or simply feel that the autumnal push is just a bit too aggressive? Pull up a chair and have a bowl of pasta with me. You’ll forget all about that nonsense after one bite.

Fresh Corn Pasta

1/2 Cup Corn Kernels, Canned and Drained, or Frozen and Thawed
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal

To Serve:

Pesto
Fresh Corn Kernels
Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

To make the pasta, place the corn kernels, aquafaba, oil, and salt in your food processor. Puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container as needed, until completely smooth. Add in the flour and cornmeal and pulse to incorporate. It shouldn’t take long before the mixture turns into a cohesive dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, press it into a ball, and cover it loosely with a clean towel. Let rest for 10 minutes to allow the gluten to relax before proceeding.

Divide dough in half, covering one of the portions once more with the towel. Focusing your attention on the other half, knead it lightly until smooth and press it into the rough shape of a rectangle. Break out the rolling pin and roll it out to about 1/8th – 1/16th of an inch in thickness.

Lightly flour the entire length before rolling it loosely and gently to make a short scroll to can be cut in one stroke. Use a very sharp knife to slice the noodles to your desired thickness; about 1/4-inch for fettuccine or 1/8-inch for linguine. Toss the noodles with additional flour to keep the strands separate.

Hang the fresh pasta on drying rack (in a pinch, I’ve used metal coat hangers) for at least two hours to dry. Repeat with remaining half of the dough.

If preparing the pasta well advance, allow it to dry completely, about 8 – 10 hours depending on the humidity in your kitchen, before storing it an airtight container or zip top plastic bag.

To cook, bring approximately 4 quarts water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for just 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until firm but tender. Drain but do not rinse.

Immediately toss with pesto and fresh vegetables and enjoy!

Makes 2 – 4 Servings (Paired with a Salad or Soup to Make a Meal)

Printable Recipe


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Summers on Ice

It has long been rumored that Mark Twain once asserted “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Although readily disproven, the false quote still haunts the bay area to this day, resonating with those more accustomed to the sweltering sunshine seen further down the west coast. Even I’ll admit a certain disappointment when heading downtown on a mid-July day calls for a jacket and long pants, but it’s an entirely different story just across the bay. Berkeley and Oakland regularly send the mercury rising 10 – 15 degrees higher, and there’s no telling what sort of tropical conditions exist just a few miles further out towards wine county. By the time I’m ready to head home, the disparity finds me swimming in my heavy layers, gasping for the relief that only a frozen treat, or two, can bring.

In such a desperate state, nutrition is rarely top of mind, truth be told. Anything cold and preferably sweet will do, never mind the sugar rush and crash soon to follow. After one too many midday food comas, I’ve found it essential to stock only the good stuff in the first place, making the best choice also the easy choice.

Thank goodness for Pro(Zero), my top protein powder pick of the moment. Blending with any liquid as smooth as silk, thickening like a dream, and possessing a rich sweetness far beyond the label might indicate, it’s everything you could ask for in a powdered supplement. Okay, there is one more think you might one: Good taste.

Previously available only in a limited palate of flavors, the latest release of a Chai Latte rendition has stolen my latte-loving heart. Warm spices mingle with a hint of coffee flavor, both in perfect balance, the combination of the two is a real snacking showstopper.

A thick, frosty protein shake does wonders to tame the typical hunger pains, but all it takes is a humble popsicle mold for crafting next-level summertime satisfaction. Initially inspired by a leftover protein shake left in the freezer for too long, it was obvious that my oversight was no mistake, but a hint of unlocked potential. All it needed was a stick.

Flecked with bold, invigorating spices and the perk of your favorite caffeinated beverage, these frosty treats are no mere syrupy ice cubes. Flakes of toasted coconut add texture, while coconut milk provides a decadent, creamy backdrop. Each bit has all the richness of typical ice cream, but without the need for any fancy equipment, or for loosening your belt afterwards.

To all the hot, busy, summer days ahead: Bring it on, do your worst. I’ve got some delicious backup ammunition in my freezer now, ready for instant refueling.

Coconut Chai Freezer Pops

1 3/4 Cups (1 14-Ounce Can) Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Plain or Vanilla Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Chai Latte Protein Powder
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Shredded Coconut, Toasted
1 1/4 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/8 Teaspoon Anise Extract (Optional)

The procedure here really couldn’t be any simpler: Whisk together the coconut milk and non-dairy milk of your choice along with the protein powder, mixing thoroughly to ensure that there are no remaining lumps. Add in the toasted coconut, spices, salt, and extracts, and stir well. Pour the resulting mixture into popsicle molds, insert sticks, and place them on a level surface in your freezer. Allow at least 6 hours before serving, and preferably overnight.

If you have trouble getting the pops out of the mold, run the outsides under hot water for about 60 seconds to loosen them.

Makes About 6 Medium Freezer Pops

Printable Recipe

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


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Going Green

Green isn’t just good; green is great. Green is downright glorious. Green represents health, wealth, freshness, and rebirth. When it comes to food especially, every green in the visible gamut indicates a potent source of nourishment, and this is especially true as those tones grow increasingly saturated. Spirulina is a prime example, packing an unbelievable battery of vitamins, minerals, and proteins into every molecule. Potent even in the smallest doses, spirulina enjoys the rare ability to enhance average recipes, both visually and nutritionally.

Consider that scant pinch of spirulina powder nature’s food dye, with some added health benefits. With St. Patrick’s Day upon us and green eats popping up around every corner, there’s never been a better time to ditch the bottle of FD&C Green No. 3, titanium dioxide, modified corn starch, sodium benzoate, and potassium sorbate.

The funny thing is, the original St. Patrick himself was actually associated with a particular shade of royal blue, not green, contrary to popular belief. That particular hue came to represent the holiday thanks to the shamrock, which was picked to adorn one’s lapel as a vibrant, living symbol of the holy trinity. Curious what a bit of time and mythology can do to tradition.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s still perfectly fitting to pay homage to the “Emerald Isle” with another round of green goodies. If anything, it’s even more appropriate to employ the tinting powers of blue-green algae with this knowledge! It’s the best of all worlds, especially from a flavor standpoint.

Crisp, compact bites for munching solo or pairing with a light dip, you’d never know that these shamrock-shaped crackers are such healthy snacks. A gluten-free base of green pea flour contributes a distinctly nutty, roasted flavor which pairs perfectly with the subtle savoriness contributed by the spirulina. Bold additions of fresh mint, lemon, and black pepper sparkle brightly against the contrast of that dark green backdrop, yielding an invigorating combination well suited for spring festivities, and beyond.

Best of all, the basic formula is infinitely adjustable to your tastes. Green pea flour is still slightly esoteric, I’ll admit, so you can just as easily swap it for standard garbanzo bean flour instead. Herbs and seasonings are entirely flexible, too. Think fresh dill for another seasonal taste, or try cilantro with lime zest to pull the profile in an entirely new direction. As long as it’s green, it’s all good.

Gluten-Free Minted Pea Crackers

1 Cup Green Pea Flour
1 Tablespoon Spirulina Powder
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Mint Leaves, Finely Minced
1 Scallion, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Cup Water
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

In a large bowl, mix together the green pea flour and spirulina, stirring thoroughly to ensure that the spirulina is thoroughly distributed throughout. Add in the finely chopped herbs, zest, salt, pepper, and baking powder next, tossing to incorporate. Finally, pour in the oil and water together, and mix very well, until you create a smooth, cohesive dough. It will be very thick and you may need to use your hands bring everything together, so don’t be afraid to get in there and get messy! There’s no danger of overworking the mixture since there’s no gluten, so give it your all.

Shape the dough into an even rectangle and pat it out fairly thin by hand before moving on to the rolling pin.

Avoid using an excessive amount of additional flour, but use a tiny bit of extra flour on your work surface to prevent the dough from sticking. I had the best results when rolling it between two separate pieces of parchment paper. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible to yield the crispiest, crunchiest crackers; aim for about 1/8 of an inch. Use a small cookie cutter of your desired shape, approximately 1 inch or so in diameter, and punch out the individual crackers. Transfer the shapes carefully to your prepared baking sheet. No need to space them out too much, since they won’t spread. Just give them enough room to breath and bake evenly.

Bake 15 – 18 minutes, or until crisp and no longer shiny on top. It can be difficult to tell when they’re fully cooked due to the dark green color, but they should at least appear dry. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and pull the crackers earlier to prevent them from burning. They will continue to crisp as they cool, and if you’re not fully satisfied with the texture at that point, you can always return them to the oven for a few more minutes.

Let cool completely before snacking or stashing in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by Spiral Spring, but all content and opinions are entirely my own. To enjoy a 20% discount on all Spiral Spring products, enter “Sweet20” upon checkout.
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