BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Embracing Imperfection

Rarely do New Year’s resolutions resonate with me. Striving to improve one’s health, wealth, or general shortcomings are admirable goals, but the annual effort always feels so contrived. The calendar shouldn’t be the push for these efforts; as is proven year after year, that reminder typically affects change for a month, at best.

2017, however, already seems different. High on my list of personal ambitions is to let go of the perfection fallacy and embrace the beauty in all that is conventionally deemed “ugly.” Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and I’ve found a whole lot to love in the trend towards buying otherwise unloved, ugly produce. Lemons with blemishes; apples that are too small to meet a buyer’s standards; gnarled carrots that refuse to stand up straight. Otherwise delicious fruits and vegetables are discarded in favor of their immaculate, but often tasteless, brethren.

Imperfect Produce is making big waves in the supply chain to change all that. Delivering boxes on demand directly to consumers’ doors across the bay area, they’ve only been in operation for a little over a year and have already rescued well over 750,000 pounds of otherwise wasted food. Those numbers are no small potatoes (although they have plenty of those to share, too) and promise continue growing at a rapid pace, as they’ve recently announced plans to expand into Los Angeles.

This is where I need to go off script and say that this is not a sponsored post and I did not receive anything for free. I was simply inspired by the mission of this once-small startup, and am beyond thrilled to spread the Imperfect Produce appreciation. When I realized that their warehouse was just a short walk away, I high-tailed it out there to see where all the ugly goodness comes from, and I was welcomed with open arms.

Browsing through the line of workers busily packing food into their designated compostable boxes, the real tragedy is that among the immense stacks of produce, I could hardly pick out any truly unsightly specimen within. Perhaps it’s a case of excess supply or insufficient demand, but some of these were truly stunning edible gems, deemed unfit for sale for reasons no ethical eater could comfortably stomach.

Resolve to do more for the local community, your diet, and your bank account by simply eating uglier. You’ll spend a fraction of the cost that these fruits and vegetables would otherwise command at conventional grocery stores, and better yet, you’ll skip the lines at checkout. If that’s still not enough to convince you, go ahead and take 50% off your first box with the code “SPOON” at checkout. Pick exactly what you want from the current seasonal offerings and trust that no matter what it looks like, it will always be brilliantly fresh and delicious.

The delivery range is limited to us lucky Californians at the moment, but I think the overall message is one we can all get behind for the coming year. Celebrate all of life’s imperfections, no matter what form they may take.


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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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Nothing Bundt Chocolate

Despite the recent influx of chocolate-covered features here on BitterSweet, I swear the trend is entirely unintentional. Given the festive season that’s upon us, I’d much rather share treats infused with bright spices, sweet winter fruits, and hearty whole grains. The catch here is that I’m typically not baking for myself, but for others, and there are quite a few picky eaters on my list. While you can never please everyone, you can bet I’m still going to try.

Thus, most nuts and dried fruits are out. Anise and clove are incredibly polarizing flavors. Nothing with booze for the staunch non-drinkers. Vegetable-haters object loudly to pumpkin in any format, which means that butternut and sweet potatoes are also out. What, then, is left in the average baker’s arsenal?

Chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate, aside from liars and the mentally unstable. This one is nothing new, and in fact, is quite a throw back. Pilfered from my mother’s recipe box on a recent visit, this classic chocolate cake is brought to you by my Great Nana Blanche. I never met the woman, but clearly, she knew how to cook for a crowd. Easily modified to yield layers, cupcakes, or a bundt, the basic formula never disappoints.

If you’re also going crazy trying to make something special for a number of picky eaters, take a hint from the classics. Sometimes, you just can’t beat a tried-and-true, old-fashioned chocolate cake. There’s a reason why those recipes have survived through so many years.

Great Nana Blanche’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (Veganized)

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Hot Water

Simple Chocolate Glaze (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease your baking vessel of choice.*

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the vegan butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add in the sour cream, yogurt, and vanilla, mixing until homogeneous. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed to ensure that all the ingredients are fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the hot water. Mix just until smooth.

*You have many options for the final shape of this cake, and all are equally delicious! Simply adjust the baking time accordingly:

9×5 loaf pan = 45 – 50 minutes
12 – 14 cupcakes = 16 – 18 minutes
8 layer cake round = 30 – 35 minutes
10-cup bundt pan = doubled recipe, baked for 60 – 70 minutes
6 – 8 mini bundts = 20 – 25 minutes

Let cool completely before glazing, if desired.

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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Dreaming of a White Chocolate Christmas

Gleaming in the early morning light, bright and luminous as freshly fallen snow, white chocolate is an irreplaceable staple for the holiday baker. Generous pans of fudge, slabs of peppermint bark, and boxes of cookies all shimmer with these sweet morsels, unrivaled in their versatility for ornamentation and flavor enhancement. The trouble, as every careful shopper knows, is that mainstream options contain far more dairy than cacao. White chocolate gets a bad rap for precisely this reason, to say nothing of the waxy hydrogenated oils that often bind the whole sugary messes together. While relatively limited vegan options exist on the market, the tides are slowly changing.

Homemade options are always a treat, and you’ll find boutique bars aplenty online, but what I’m talking about today are genuine chips, capable of holding their own in any dessert rather than functioning simply as a treat to eat out of hand. Right now, there are two types of vegan chocolate chips: Those that are good for melting, dipping, and drizzling, and those that maintain their shape, more resistant to the heat of the oven.

The newest chip off the block is somewhat revolutionary; 100% organic, no hydrogenated oils or questionable fillers in sight. Cocoa butter, rice milk powder, sugar, and vanilla are the only things that go into Pascha Chocolate‘s new rice milk white chocolate chips. For the obsessive label-readers or highly allergic eaters, this stuff is heaven-sent. Flatter than the traditional snowy peaks of conventional chocolate chips, they’re more like crisp white disks, ideal for melting down into creamy cacao creations.

Mildly flavored, they don’t beat you over the head with sweetness, but whisper gently of vanilla with a subtle buttery undertone. This nuanced approach is perfect for crowning more aggressively flavored baked goods, like these gingerbread bars pictured above, cutting their intensity without detracting from the overall experience. Although their more delicate composition means they’re more likely to pool and puddle when faced with a trip through the oven, they’re perfect for turning into white ganache or icing once your treats are fully baked. For your highest quality option with the cleanest label, Pascha Chocolate is your one and only choice.

If you’re craving a smattering of white chocolate freckles throughout your cookies or cakes, however, you still have one great option! While there are a few white chips out there designed for the kosher crowd, most of those taste of little more than wax and sugar, entirely eschewing cocoa butter and thus losing the essence of this simple sweet addition. Not so with the White Chocolate Chips offered by Chocolate Emporium. These are the little morsels of pale cacao goodness that I’ve been buying (and hoarding) in bulk for years.

Although they’re stubbornly resistant to melting down smoothly, that quality serves them perfectly for baked applications. They have a slightly softer chew right out of hand, but somehow manage to hold their own in the face of a 350 degree inferno. Their flavor would be described as subtle at best, but their main function should be to add sweetness, creaminess, and color contrast anyway.

When the chips are down, these two are your very best bets, and both should have a place of honor in your kitchen year round. Vegan white chocolate is still something of a rarity, so these sweet treats will undoubtedly elicit astonishment, wonder, and awe- Not to mention hunger.


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Short, Sweet, and Sharp

This is not a gift guide. To call it as much would be self-congratulatory exaggeration, promising far greater shopping insights than such a short list could deliver. The truth of the matter is that every year, I dream of highlighting my favorite products, sharing them far and wide, but every year I find that proposition entirely overwhelming. A serial online shopper, I’m guilty of stuffing my virtual cart all year round, amounting to scores of marvelous new finds that go entirely unsung, despite best intentions.

Besides, I’m not about to declare how you should be spending your hard-earned money, whether it’s on gifts for loved ones or yourself. Rather, this is just a short, sweet, and sharp round up of just the latest things I’m loving, and think that you might enjoy, too.

Short: Microplane has become synonymous with the product they’ve innovated, and for good reason. They continue to produce the incontrovertibly best tools for removing zest in short, attractive, and flavorful little strips, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of their range. All graters are not created equal, and now that Microplane offers a wide variety of shredding textures through their attractive Master Series, I could never go back to my cheap dollar store stand-in. From fine to extra coarse, these sharp tools are a simple but drastic upgrade for anyone who likes to zest it up in the kitchen.

Sweet: Opening up this box on Christmas Day really would be pretty magical for recipients of any age. Custom made to your tastes, the Magic Candy Factory lets buyers pick out flavors, shapes, and glittery finishes to fabricate their very own 3D-printed gummy candies. All vegan, delicious, and beautifully rendered, this just might be the big winner of the gift giving season. After all, who could ever be disappointed by a mango-flavored, sparkling, gummy octopus?

Sharp: They say you should never give a knife as a present because it will sever your relationship with that person, but I’m not buying it. I am, however, buying this Wüsthof Epicure 9″ Double-Serrated Bread Knife, which cuts through even the toughest crusts just like… Well, you know. Those pointed teeth really dig right in and create clean slices with little effort. Leave your dull knife in the dust and consider upgrading your current arsenal with this well-balanced blade.

Now tell me, what are you currently loving, coveting, and craving? There’s always space for more on my wish list…