BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Brazilian Bread Blowout

So a vegan walks into a Brazilian steakhouse…

Reality is stranger than fiction, and while that may sound like the opening line of a terrible joke, that is exactly what happened on a recent afternoon exploit in the city. Why, in a veritable vegan wonderland, would I willingly chose a venue best known for slinging skewered meats like a relentless barrage, bearing glistening swords of the stuff right at your table, no less? Three simple words, my friends: Free salad bar. There is such a thing as a free lunch, at least when it’s your birthday and you’re gifted with a voucher that would cover the cost of the lavish “market table,” a bottomless buffet piled high with a wealth of naturally plant-based options. Luxurious platters of naked hearts of palm, fat spears of asparagus, whole cloves of caramelized garlic, roasted red beets, and yes, even verdant kale salad all beckon atop a platform of glistening crushed ice. It’s a veggie-lovers heaven; a miraculous vegan oasis amid a desert of meat. Thus, for the grand total of $0 (plus a generous and well-deserved tip,) I shamelessly piled my plate high, going back for round after round until I swore I would need to be rolled all the way back home.

To their credit, the servers all took my curious requests in stride, even when I turned down the buttery mashed potatoes, crispy, cheese-encrusted polenta fries, and complimentary birthday dessert. “But it’s included as part of the experience!” they cried, falteringly but graciously returning the untouched bounty to the kitchen whence it came. Only when one carefully folded napkin briefly fell away to reveal a bundle of mysterious little rolls, more like puff pastry than bread, did I feel the smallest pang of regret. Pão de queijo, an entirely unique baked good never before seen through my travels or tastings, suddenly dominated my imagination. Made of either yucca or tapioca flour, the texture is dense and chewy, much like baked mochi with a savory slant. Of course, the little gut bombs positively shimmer with the rich dairy components that make up the bulk of each bite.

That is, of course, until you take matters into your own hands. By no means traditional or remotely “authentic,” my take on the celebrated Brazilian cheese bread is a quick and dirty version that requires none of the typical kneading, rising, or general fussing associated with making bread. If you’ve got a blender and 30 minutes to spare, you’re in business.

Break through that crisp, golden exterior and plunge yourself head-first into an intensely buttery morsel of bread, the likes of which no average dinner roll can compare. Part of its appeal is its simplicity; the flavor is simple and savory, bold but agreeable, easily paired with any other main or side dish on the table. Though unremarkable at first glance, these treats are big winners once you get to know them.

They may not come with the full steakhouse experience, but once you can pop one of these warm, cheesy morsels into your mouth any time a craving strikes, well… You really aren’t missing anything at all.

Brazilian Cheese Bread (Pão de Queijo)

1/4 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted
2/3 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon White Vinegar
1 1/2 Cups Tapioca Flour
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
2 Teaspoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoons Baking Powder
6 Ounces Vegan Mozzarella-Style Cheese
1 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease two mini muffin pans.

Simply place all of the ingredients into a blender and pulse until smooth. You don’t need to worry about over-mixing the dough, since there’s no gluten to work up here. Pause as needed to scrape down the sides of the blender to ensure that everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Once completely smooth, pour the batter into your prepared mini muffin pans so that they’re filled 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 16-20 minutes, until puffy and evenly browned all over. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for a few minutes. Don’t be alarmed if some of them fall in the center as they cool.

Serve right away and eat while still warm.

Makes 2 – 2 1/2 Dozen Rolls

Printable Recipe


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A Whole Lava Love

Pastry chefs, restaurateurs, and seasoned eaters the world over groan with a deliberate roll of the eyes as the dessert menu lands on their tables. Invariably, no matter the cuisine, listed there amongst the sweet offerings will be the classic chocolate lava cake. No one can begrudge the treat for its flavor, as chocolate boasts a nearly universal approval rate across all dining demographics, but it simply seems like the default, stock answer to the question a lazy cook doesn’t want to address. To continually make such an obvious culinary faux-pas, whoever is at the helm in the kitchen must be terribly uncreative, tone-deaf, or simply apathetic about the meal’s final course. We can all agree that there are few innovations to be found in this antiquated cake, despite the richest, most flowery printed descriptions.

So why do they keep turning up around every dining room corner, and better yet, why do we keep ordering them? For all our claims of being adventurous eaters, open to new, sometimes risky flavor pairings, the attraction to tried-and-true chocolate decadence is simply irresistible. Whether you’ve indulged in one lava cake or 80 in your lifetime, it just doesn’t get old.

Putting food snobbery aside and conceding that there are far worse ways to end a meal, it becomes clear that the real issue isn’t necessarily the sheer number of molten chocolate cakes, but the number of poorly executed renditions. There’s still plenty of room for improvement.

My inspiration to revisit the original, antiquated recipe came from an unlikely source. Protein powder and downright hedonistic desserts are hardly a natural combination, but from one sip of the newly released Natural Whipped Chocolate protein powder by Pro(Zero), I knew it wasn’t so far fetched. Not only did this highly nutritious base help to foster the perfect gooey interior texture, but its natural thickening powers abolished the need for any gluten at all.

There’s no shame in falling for these babycakes containing a rich pool of hot chocolate lava, especially when they deliver a surprising punch of protein and fiber, too.

Molten Mocha Protein Cakes

2 Ounces (1/3 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Whipped Chocolate Protein Powder
3 Tablespoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Instant Espresso Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Baking Powder

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and lightly grease 4 standard muffin cups. Fill the remaining 2 in the pan halfway with room temperature water; set aside.

Place the chocolate chips in a medium, microwave-safe bowl along with the aquafaba and oil. Heat for 30 – 60 seconds, stirring thoroughly until the chocolate has completely melted. Add in the protein powder, sugar, espresso powder, salt, and baking powder, mixing well, being sure to beat out any clumps. The batter should be smooth and fairly thick.

Divide the batter equally between your four prepared muffin cups and gently slide the pan into the oven. Bake for just 7 – 8 minutes, no matter how under-baked they may look. The sides should be firm, but the centers will remain soft and may fall slightly as they rest. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes before carefully pouring out the water from the empty tins. Invert the whole pan over cutting board a or large, flat plate before transferring them to individual dessert plates. Serve immediately while still warm.

Makes 4 Small Cakes

Printable Recipe

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


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Gong Hey Fat Tuesday

If you’re looking for an excuse to celebrate, you needn’t look far. Before the glow of one jubilant holiday fete can fully fade from view, yet another occasion to rejoice arises from its ashes. Depending on which traditions you hold dear, you could easily keep the party going 365 days a year, without even delving into the more dubious list of unofficial observances. Keeping up with the standard routine is hard enough on an average day, but a calendar peppered at random with noteworthy events can become downright intimidating.

Mardi Gras and the Lunar New Year happen to fall on consecutive days this year, each arriving with a riot of colors, rituals, and lucky foods. Pressed for time and sufficient enthusiasm to properly honor both, I was suddenly struck by one unlikely common thread, uniting Creole and Chinese customs: Pancakes.

Fat Tuesday earns its moniker for all the indulgent edibles typically served during the festivities, particularly pancakes. Fluffy, flat, big, or small, every unique twist on the humble breakfast cake is welcomed with open arms- And a sticky pitcher of thick maple syrup. Less common but no less appreciated are savory renditions, ideal for balancing out the inevitable deluge of sugary sweets.

Chinese pancakes exemplify the pinnacle of pancake perfection for revelers craving salty snacks instead of desserts. Impossibly thin, flaky layers cradle flecks of green onion, just assertive enough to be heard above the baseline of nutty toasted sesame. Built upon the simplest of ingredients and just undeniably, apologetically rich, each narrow wedge tastes like a joyous carnival all by itself.

Clearly, it was high time for these two cultures to become acquainted.

Unexpected Cajun and Creole flavors infuse this time-honored dim sum addition, drawing bright citrus notes into the stratified dough itself. The real coup de gras, however, is delivered in the fiery dipping sauce. A cool and creamy base balances out a wide palate of spices, ranging from warming to immolating. Once blended and melded the resulting harmony of heat could easily become a new standby to accompany any cuisine.

Ala Madigra and Gong Hey Fat Choy!

Citrus-Scallion Pancakes with Dynamite Cajun Dipping Sauce

Dynamite Cajun Dipping Sauce:

1 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise, Homemade or Store-Bought
2 Tablespoons Sriracha
2 Tablespoons Fresh Cilantro, Finely Minced
1 Tablespoon Creole Seasoning
1 Teaspoon Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced

Citrus-Scallion Pancakes:

2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
6 – 8 Tablespoons Warm Water
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Scallions
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 – 5 Tablespoons Peanut Oil

To prepare the dipping sauce, simply mix everything together, adding sriracha to taste. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve, for up to two weeks.

For the pancakes, mix together the flour, 6 tablespoons of the warm water, lemon juice, and sesame oil in a large bowl. Stir until the liquid is absorbed, adding more water one teaspoon at a time as needed until the dough pulls away from sides of bowl. The goal is to create a cohesive, firm dough that is barely tacky to the touch.

Knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface for about 5 – 10 minutes, or until smooth. Cover with a moist towel for 20 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.

Meanwhile, take this opportunity to mix together scallions, garlic, lemon zest, and salt in a small bowl; set aside.

After resting, roll the dough into a skinny snake-like shape and cut into 20 equal pieces. Roll each segment into balls and keep covered with the towel.

Working with one small ball of dough at a time, place on a well-floured surface and roll into a circle approximately 4-inches in diameter. Brush liberally with peanut oil, sprinkle with 1 – 2 teaspoons of the scallion mixture, and roll the pancake up tightly like a rug. Curl the roll around in a spiral, pinch the end to seal, and flatten it back out into a very thin circle, about 1/8 of an inch in thickness. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.

Heat one tablespoon of peanut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Pan fry the pancakes, one or two at a time, until the bottom is golden brown and perfectly crisp. Keep warm in a low oven or slice into wedges, serving immediately alongside the dipping sauce.

Makes 20 Pancakes

Printable Recipe


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Hang Ten

Ten years. One decade.

It’s both an insignificant stretch of time, and an interminable one. It’s enough time to grow a productive (if petite) apple tree from seed; to grow a newborn into a certifiable tween. It’s more time than I ever thought I could devote myself to one single project, especially at the tender young age of 17. Clicking that now-familiar “publish” button for the very first time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Never one for the syrupy sweet prose nor navel-gazing of a self-congratulatory anniversary post, I want to simply, sincerely say thank you. YOU, for reading, whether it was from the awkward, ugly early days or just this very moment. It’s impossible to fathom all of the incredible people out there who have shaped my life up to this point, from the past 37,500 comments and counting. Life both online and off would look entirely different without every last line of text, even those who simply drop by to say “Yum!”

There’s nothing that could sufficiently express my gratitude, and so for weeks leading up to this moment, I was paralyzed with anxiety. How do I mark the occasion? How can I possibly repay these incredibly readers equal to the generosity they’ve shown me?

Quite frankly, I can’t.

I can only keep on writing, photographing, and sharing all the sordid details, for another 10 years or more- Only if you’ll be so kind as to indulge me.

Thank you.


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Leave the Dairy, Take the Cannoli

After fourteen years of veganism and a lifetime of lactose intolerance, cow’s milk doesn’t pose even the slightest temptation, no matter the myriad forms it may take. That commitment is effortless not simply due to habitual avoidance, however, but because the alternatives are now more readily available and more delicious than ever. So Delicious, in fact.

Dumping dairy isn’t a challenge when you already have luscious frozen desserts and rich, creamy beverages on your side, so the call to take part in the So Delicious Dairy Free 21 Day Dairy-Free Challenge sounds like a real non-dairy cakewalk to me. Whether you’ve been committed to a lactose-free life for years or have merely dabbled with the concept, consider joining the Facebook group for a chance to win some fabulous prizes! Leading up to and throughout the event, from January 21st through February 10th, there will be giveaways for gift cards, food kits, and even a trip for two to Boulder, Colorado.

Like the smoking gun of The Godfather, all forms of dairy can easily become part of a regrettable past, replaced by the immediate gratification of the sweet, simple cannoli. The overwhelming urge to take comfort in familiar flavors, childhood treats, or downright decadent indulgences can drive the average person to commit unspeakable culinary sins, despite the best intentions, but one needn’t return to a life of crime for satisfaction. Cannoli were always the greatest treat if in the nearby vicinity of an Italian bakery, since no one in my household would have dared fire up a vat of hot oil to fry and fabricate the shells from scratch. Without that edible container, there was no pastry altogether- Or so I thought.

Believe it or not, after tireless taste tests, standard waffle ice cream cones have proven themselves as highly satisfying substitutes, every bit as crisp and crunchy, and far less greasy, to boot. In place of the typically heavy mascarpone filling, a combination of Greek-style coconut yogurt and airy CocoWhip commingle to create an effortless mousse. Light as a cloud while still possessing that same characteristic tang of traditional cultured dairy, this barely sweetened filling comes together in a matter of minutes. That’s fast enough to strike down any craving in its tracks.

Let’s be honest: This is the least challenging “challenge” on the internet, and if you’ve ever spent time trolling YouTube videos, you’ll know that’s really saying something. Whether you join in on the fun or not, you would be doing yourself a disservice not to try these fun faux-cannoli. You’ve got nothing to lose, except any residual attachment to dairy products!

Cannoli Cones

“Mascarpone” Mousse Filling:

1 6-Ounce Container Plain Greek Cultured Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon White Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
4.5 Ounces (Half a Container) CocoWhip Original

Assembly:

8 – 10 Ice Cream Cones
3 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/3 Cup Toasted Pistachios, Roughly Chopped (Optional)

To make the mousse filling, mix together the yogurt, sugar, miso, nutritional yeast, and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir until fully combined and completely smooth. Add in a few dollops of the Coco whip at a time, using a wide spatula to gently fold it into the mixture. Be careful not to beat all the structure out of it to keep the filling light and airy. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to serve, and for up to a week.

To finish the cannoli assembly, place the chocolate in a microwave safe contain and heat for 30 – 60 seconds, stirring thoroughly until the chocolate has completely melted. Dip the tops of the waffle cones into the liquid chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off, and carefully stand them in tall, narrow glasses to dry upright.

To serve, simply pipe, spoon, or scoop the chilled mousse into your cones and top each with a sprinkle of toasted pistachios. Enjoy!

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe

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


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Sparkling into the New Year

Mimosas are typically the stuff of brunches, weddings, and fancy celebrations the world over. Even the word itself rolls off the tongue with a jubilant flourish, sparkling as brightly as the effervescent alcohol within. Most spiked drinks don’t hold any temptation for this teetotaler, but champagne is one boozy beverage that I would make an exception for and drink without any further garnish. So light, so inoffensive, it’s more symbolic than it is a memorable taste sensation. To refuse a slender flute of champagne is to abstain from the party, to turn down a glass of merriment and good cheer. Simply watching the bubbles stream upwards, breaching at the meniscus in rapid succession, makes me feel as though as I could just as easily begin to float, too.

Mimosas have such a unique, delicate character that it doesn’t typically translate well to dessert interpretations. Sure, you can call it a “mimosa cake,” but I promise you it will only taste like oranges. Instead of baking it into submission, I wanted a simpler approach that kept the essence of the drink intact, conveying that same celebratory sentiment with just a little added sweetness.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more elegant dessert for either New Year’s Eve or Day that required less effort. Chewy pearls of tapioca mimic the bubbles of the original inspiration, adding a creamy custard element to the traditional tipple.

The only catch is that you’ll need to remain clear-headed enough to start preparing this recipe in advance, as the tapioca pearls need ample time to soak and soften. Worst comes to worst, you can toss the soaked pearls into the fridge and let them chill out for up to a week. If you forget to cook them altogether and just end up drinking the bottle of champagne straight, well… I certainly won’t judge. There’s always next year.

Mimosa Tapioca Pudding

3 Tablespoons Large Pearl Tapioca
1/2 Cups Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cups Champagne*
1/3 Cup Orange Juice
1 Teaspoon Orange Zest
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

2 – 3 Mandarin Oranges, Segmented
Fresh Mint Leaves (Optional)

*For a non-alcoholic treat, try substituting either tonic water or plain kombucha.

Place the tapioca pearls in a medium bowl and cover with ample warm water; at least 1 cup. Cover and let soak overnight, or at least 8 hours, before proceeding.

Drain and rinse the soaked pearls thoroughly. Place them in a small saucepan along with the non-dairy milk, champagne, orange juice, zest, sugar, arrowroot, and salt. Whisk vigorously to break up any clumps of starch that may form before turning on the heat to medium-low. Slowly bring the liquid up to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking and burning on the sides or bottom of the pan.

Once the mixture is rapidly boiling and significantly thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Divide the hot pudding between 3 – 4 champagne flutes and let cool to room temperature before transferring the glasses into the fridge. Chill thoroughly, at least three hours, and top with mandarin orange segments and fresh mint before serving, if desired.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe