BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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A Cookie for Every Craving

Whether you’ve baked a dozen batches of every cookie bookmarked in your recipe file or have yet to fire up the oven, it’s never too late to squeeze in another sweet option. Especially true around the holidays, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season than with a few homemade morsels of sweetness. The possibilities are simply endless, taking form in every shape under the sun, boasting colors and flavors previously beyond the scope of imagination. Even if you have a game plan all set out for your festive gifts, desserts, and midnight snacks, it’s never to late to add a few more recipes to that list.

This is especially true when you’re talking about the winners of the annual VegNews Holiday Cookie Contest. Certified delicious by a panel of discerning sweet teeth, I was tasked with an assignment of significant import: Photographing the top three victorious treats. Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

In third place, the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies by Alison Sullivan sparkle with the warm spices and rich chocolate flavor. The only thing better than enjoying one still warm out of the oven would be to pair it with a cup of the eponymous beverage itself.

Coming in at second place, the Gingerbread Fudge Buttons by Anna Jurik are real beauties to behold. Luscious pools of melted chocolate resting in tender gingerbread cups, these options are sure to shine on any cookie platter.

Taking the grand prize in first place, it’s easy to see why the Salted Caramel Cookies by Michelle Norton took the cake- Or cookie, as it were. Dangerously easy to whip up, this sweet and salty combination hits all the high notes in every soft, chewy bite. Just try and leave a single one out for Santa, I dare you!

No matter how you decide to celebrate the holiday, or not, be sure to make it sweet. Have a happy everything!


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Ugly but Tasty

Though it’s a quality often possessed by the most delicious meals and one that I passionately embrace in my daily menu, ugliness can be the kiss of death for a new recipe. Creations so unsightly that no amount of careful prop styling nor Photoshopping can disguise, countless innocent dishes have met their end, sacrificed in the name of vanity and not in good taste. For this conceit, I must apologize, my dear readers. It’s a personal shortfall that I couldn’t look beyond a bad photo shoot for so many homely, but tasty, pursuits.

Thank goodness for recipe tasters. Even when I’ve written something off as unexceptional, imperfect, and most commonly of all, unphotogenic, there are passionate eaters in my life outspoken enough to rescue those edible gems from certain doom. One of the most “famous” cases was that of the Frankenstorm Pie; quickly thrown together without any recipe at all, it was only due to the begging and pleading of the recipients that it was even recorded in any format to begin with, let alone make the final cut for the pages of Easy as Vegan Pie.

By some small miracle and number of very vocal recipients, one of last year’s holiday gifts was rescued from a similar fate. Inspired by the traditional rum ball, these potent little treats may be sorely lacking in the beauty department, but the flavor sure won’t leave you wanting. Spiked with a heady dose of both mint and coffee liqueurs, they were originally dubbed “Boozy Peppermint Mocha Balls,” but the only way I could think to improve their image problem was to further finesse the moniker, at the very least.

Just think of these little morsels as the adult version of a peppermint mocha latte in candy form, and for maximum enjoyment, don’t waste too much time admiring their good looks… Or lack thereof.

Spiked Peppermint Mocha Bites

2 1/2 (12-Ounce) Packages Peppermint Joe-Joe’s or Mint Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (30 Ounces Total)
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar, Divided
1/4 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup (6 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Cup Kahlua or Any Other Coffee Liqueur
1/4 Cup Creme de Menthe or Any Other Mint Liqueur

Place the minty sandwich cookies of your choice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “s” blade, and pulse until very finely ground. Don’t worry about a few larger pieces; the extra texture is a nice addition. Introduce 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar, instant coffee, and salt next, pulse briefly to incorporate.

In a microwave-safe dish, combine the chocolate and maple syrup, and heat for 60 seconds. Let stand for another minute before stirring thoroughly, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Add the liquid chocolate into the food processor along with both liqueurs. Pulse again until the mixture is more or less homogeneous, with no particular dry or wet patches.

Scoop out a heaping tablespoon for each bite, roll firmly but gently into a ball between your palms, and toss in the remaining cup of confectioner’s sugar to coat. Repeat until all of the cookie mixture is used up, and work quickly; it becomes increasingly difficult to shape as the chocolate cools. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week, or in the fridge for up to a month… If you can manage to ignore them for that long.

Makes 5 – 6 Dozen Bites

Printable Recipe


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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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Ode to Soy

Pulp. By-product. Waste.

To describe the venerable soybean substance known as okara by any of the above terms strikes me as ranging from unpleasant to downright offensive. Though in truth, no one has ever set out specifically to create okara, it’s a shame that such a vital component of the whole bean is often cast aside, still brimming with unrealized nutritional and culinary potential.

If you want to make soymilk or tofu, you’ve got to blend some beans, and what’s leftover after straining out the liquid is fresh okara. Still packed with impressive amounts of fiber, protein, and calcium, it’s stunning that the stuff hasn’t spawned a new superfood craze of its own. Pitifully hard to come by on grocery store shelves, some metropolitan areas might boast Asian markets savvy enough to carry this uncelebrated soybean substance, but manufacturers are more than happy to help with direct requests.

I was lucky enough to take away a heaping helping from my visit to Hodo Soy and have only just begun to explore the limitless recipe possibilities. It freezes beautifully and has a mild flavor that can agree with just about any dish. One of my favorite simple preparations is Bryanna Clark Grogan’s okara parmesan, but with the new abundance on hand, I wanted to explore farther beyond the typical okara preparations.

Protein bars are always in high demand; a perfect snack or light meal on the go, their only fault can be excessive sweetness or secretly lack-luster ingredients. Not so of homemade renditions, and this okara-based beauty turns the standard format on its head. Based almost entirely on soybeans in a number of different forms and gluten-free to boot, it’s a delicious change of pace that won’t leave you in a sugar coma soon after indulging.

The following recipe calls for dry okara, such as you would find resulting from commercial production. Okara borne of homemade tofu is generally wetter simply because home cooks don’t have fancy machines designed specifically for squeezing every last drop of moisture out of the pulp. Not to worry; just plan on baking the wet okara on the lowest temperature possible for a little bit longer before moving on to the toasting phase.

Super Soy Okara Bars

1/2 Cup Creamy Soynut Butter
1/2 Cup Light Agave Nectar
2 Cups Toasted Okara*
1/3 Cup Roasted Edamame
2 Tablespoons Toasted Black Sesame Seeds
2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

*To toast your okara, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Start with at least 3 cups of dry okara to ensure there will be enough for this recipe, and spread it out in a large baking pan to a thickness of no more than 1/2 inch. Cook for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 15 – 25 minutes, until lightly golden all over and smelling wonderfully nutty. Cool completely before using or storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks

After toasting the okara, raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

From here on in, the procedure is very simple. Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with a sturdy spatula. Stir until the batter is smooth (aside from the mix-ins, of course) and don’t be afraid to really have at it. There’s no gluten to worry about it, so keep mixing until everything is fully blended.

Transfer the batter into your prepared prepared pan, spreading it out to fill the space evenly and smoothing the top.

Bake 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown and surface feel dry. Let the bars cool completely in the pan before using the parchment or foil as a sling to lift the whole lot out. Slice into single servings and wrap with plastic for later enjoyment. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a week to maintain maximum freshness.

Makes 8 – 12 Bars

Printable Recipe


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Pie-Giving

For all their fussing, planning, and maddening preparation, hosts and hostesses across the country would have you believe that Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, but let’s be real: It’s a holiday built around pie. Although food historians now suggest that there was no pie on the menu for the first Thanksgiving, alleging that early colonists had no flour nor butter at their disposal, that simply strikes me as a terribly shortsighted judgement. What if they just went gluten-free and vegan for the final course? Or perhaps they simply went sans crust and opted to fashion impossible pies for the event instead.

Truly, a life without pie is one too dreadful to imagine, especially on this pie-centric holiday. One thing that scholars can agree on is that an assortment of native pumpkins could have indeed been found, so at least we’ve got the building blocks of a modern dessert in place right there.

My apologies to the pilgrims, but Thanksgiving is really more like Pie-Giving in my book, and I don’t make any concessions to tradition. My version of the holiday is filled with lavish sweets and a veritable parade of pies.

This year, I’m still stuck on marshmallows and pumpkins alike, so joining the two for a grand finale seemed all but inevitable. This rendition isn’t the typical baked custard affair, however. Aiming for a loftier consistency and cooler presentation, this chiffon filling is the dreamy antidote to even the most unimaginative, conventional Thanksgiving meal.

Celebrate the holiday to the fullest by gracing your festive table with these fluffy, ephemeral orange slices. Had any of the components been a glimmer in a wily baker’s eye, I have no doubt that the pilgrims would have definitely partaken in a generous helping or two as well.

Marshmallow Chiffon Pumpkin Pie

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 1/2 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs (About 12 Full Rectangle Sheets)
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

Marshmallow Chiffon Pumpkin Filling:

1 Cup 100% Pumpkin Puree
1 10-Ounce Bag Dandies Pumpkin Spice or Original Marshmallows
1 1/2 Teaspoons Coconut Oil
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 (14-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk, Chilled

To make the crust, break up the graham crackers into smaller pieces before pulsing in a food processor until very finely ground.Drizzle the melted margarine into the crumbs, and stir thoroughly to moisten the ground cookies.

Transfer the mix to a 9-inch round pie pan, and use lightly moistened fingers to firmly press it down on the bottom and along the sides. Use the bottom of a flat measuring cup or drinking glass for smoother sides.

To prepare the filling, place the pumpkin puree, marshmallows, and coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir gently but frequently until the marshmallows completely melt and the mixture is homogeneous. This can can get sticky, especially at first when the marshmallows are reluctant to join forces with the pumpkin, so stir carefully and be patient. Once smooth, stir in the spices and salt. Remove from the heat and cool for at least 5 minutes before proceeding.

Meanwhile, open the can of coconut milk without shaking it and skim off the top layer of thickened cream. Place it in the bowl of your stand mixer and begin beating it on a low speed. Gradually increase the speed, whipping in as much air as possible. Continue whipping for about 8 – 10 minutes, until greatly increased in volume.

Using a wide spatula, gently fold the whipped coconut cream into the pumpkin mixture, trying not to knock out the air bubbles you just created. Transfer the resulting filling into your prepared crust and smooth it out into one even layer.

Place the pie in the fridge and chill for at least 4 – 6 hours before serving, but overnight is best. To serve, simply slice the pie into wedges and top with additional dollops of whipped coconut cream, if desired.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Tradition with a Twist

Thanksgiving purists, avert your eyes.

Truth be told, I can’t recall ever having a green bean casserole on the table at any of my childhood Thanksgiving celebrations. Perhaps there was one though, lovingly prepared by traditionalist grandmother, aunt, or uncle, but I sure never noticed. A holiday fraught with food complications even before I went vegan, there’s rarely been much on the expansive buffet table that got me excited, or even remotely hungry for that matter. Hunk of dry, bland turkey for you, my dear? How about a smidgen of mushy breadcrumbs swimming in a pool of their own tears? What about the gelatinous, can-shaped cranberry “sauce” that clearly has remained untouched up to this decade? No thanks, no thanks, and not on your life.

Mercifully, being that the menu remained more or less the same no matter who prepared it or where we met to eat, it became easier to predict the horrors that awaited me on that fated day of celebration. Prepared for the worst, it was a much more survivable experience, like going into battle with a map of where the landmines were hidden. It was still rough going- Downright traumatic at times, depending on the mortifying family memories that might be unearthed yet again- But at least you’d make it out alive.

Best of all, everyone would be so sick of the typical Thanksgiving fixings the next day that in spite of the copious embarrassment of leftovers, it wouldn’t be too difficult to plead for a dinner of Chinese takeout. That was the true festive meal, for all I was concerned.

Now on my own and separated by every member of my family by over 2,500 miles, I’m at a bit of a loss. I’ve finally gotten my wish, freed from the obligations of the traditional dinner, and I’m not quite sure I really want to escape it anymore. Suddenly those old-school favorites seem ripe with potential, and even though I have no plans or guests to feed, I can’t help but go back and create pieces of the feast that I always wished might be on the table.

That means combining the standard green bean casserole with an infusion of spicy sichuan peppers, just hot enough to make your lips tingle but still keep the inherent savory soul of the baked dish intact. The twist might very well horrify those who expect nothing but the same menu, year after decade after century, but for anyone who’s wanted to shake things up just a bit, I can’t think of a better dish to start with.

Sichuan (Szechuan) Green Bean Casserole

1 Pound Fresh Green Beans, Trimmed and Halved
1 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Shallot, Minced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1-Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Minced
1 Cup Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
1 Cup Unsweetened, Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Vegetable Broth
3 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1/8 – 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Sichuan Pepper*

1 Cup Fried Shallots or Onions, Divided
3/4 Cup Crispy Fried Noodles or Wonton Strips

*Given that true Sichuan peppercorns can be difficult to hunt down at times, you can omit them for an equally delicious, if less tongue-tingling experience.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Pour the sesame oil into a medium saucepan and heat over high. Once blisteringly hot, add the prepared green beans and saute while stirring briskly, until seared all over but still crisp; about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool.

Return the pan to the stove, down down the heat to medium, and add the olive oil, shallot, garlic, and ginger. Cook until aromatic and just barely browned around the edges; about 8 – 10 minutes. Introduce the mushrooms next and cook until softened. If any of the vegetables threaten to stick or burn, begin adding in splashes of the non-dairy milk.

Shake up the vegetable stock and flour in a closed jar to create a slurry. Add it into the pan, stirring to thoroughly incorporate, followed by the non-dairy milk. Introduce the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, pepper flakes and Sichuan pepper next, reducing the heat to medium-low and stirring to combine. Continue to cook, stirring periodically, until the mixture comes to a gentle boil.

Remove from the stove and add the green beans back into the mixture. Mix to combine, folding in 1/2 cup of the fried shallots as well. Transfer everything into a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish and top evenly with the crispy fried noodles and remaining fried shallots. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe