BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Let Them Eat Cornbread

Unwittingly, shamefully, it seems I’ve committed yet another culinary corruption. It was a crime of passion, as most are, born of unrequited cravings stemming from a deep, indecipherable source, compelling yet not entirely comprehensible. True love could hardly be described as rational, illuminating a clear path towards happiness, which is how this particular journey somehow got derailed into delinquency.

Cornbread, soft and sweet, haunted my dreams. Containing an impossibly dense yet fluffy crumb, melting away to a light, satisfying coarse grit on the tongue, this was the stuff of legend, a memory logged long ago during those early formative years that lack clear timestamps. It wasn’t any old Jiffy mix calling to me from beyond the periphery of cognition. It was cornbread you eat as an event by itself, not a mere side dish to a grander spread; cornbread that stole the show.

Without a second thought or further consultation, propelled by sheer passion and blissful ignorance, I tore into the cabinets to assemble my team. Cornmeal, coconut milk, olive oil, and sugar; all guilty by association. Any born and bred southerner could see in an instant where this is going by now, but in the heat of the moment, this uninformed Yankee hadn’t a care in the world.

Encrusted with a crunchy crumb topping and pock-marked with juicy red berries, still hot from the kiss of the oven, it was a sight to behold. Exactly what I had always wanted out of a cornbread without being able to fully verbalize the details, it exceeded expectations in a single bite. Though considerably more decadent than perhaps originally intended, one could hardly hold such delicious extravagance against it.

Hardly an hour passed before I settled in with a glossy food magazine that by some ironic twist of fate focused in on cornbread. Unscrupulously, the author decried the sugared excesses of modern cornbread recipes, claiming that true cornbread should remain entirely austere; unsweetened, unembellished, little more than baked corn puree. Strongly worded with equal parts revulsion and horror, I immediately understood the error of my ways.

Cake. This is corn cake. Are we clear? A mighty fine corn cake at that, but under no circumstances should it be categorized as cornbread. Can I plead innocence if we reconsider the end goal? Don’t call it a side dish and don’t invite it to dinner. Honestly, it won’t be offended! Rather, save it for a midday snack with a glass of iced tea, after the main meal with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or heck, save yourself a wedge for a rich breakfast treat in the morning.

Truth be told, this crime occurred so long ago that my original corn cake was prepared with red currants, found during a very brief seasonal window, and I was too ashamed to admit my wrongdoing at the time. Thankfully, I can attest that this treat won’t suffer the least bit if you swap them for ripe raspberries, or omit the fruit addition entirely. It’s highly flexible and fairly infallible, even if you prepared it as individual cupcakes. Just remember that this is a cake, through and through, and you’ll be golden.

Cornbread Crumb Cake

Crumb Topping:

1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Cornbread Cake:

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Fresh Red Currants or Raspberries (Optional)
1 Cup Light Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees lightly grease an 8-inch round baking pan; set aside.

Begin by making the crumb topping first. Combine the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Drizzle the olive oil all over and use a fork to mix, forming chunky, coarse crumbs. It may seem dry at first but don’t be tempted to add more liquid; slowly but surely, it will come together, and there’s no need to stress if it remains fairly loose. Set aside.

Moving on to the main cake, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, both types of cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt, stirring to thoroughly combine. Add in the currants or raspberries if using and toss to coat. This will help prevent them from simply sinking to the bottom during the baking process.

Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, olive oil, apple sauce, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Once smooth, pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and use a wide spatula to gently incorporate, being careful not to crush the berries or over-mix the batter. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few errant lumps in the matrix.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and sprinkle evenly with the crumb topping.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least 20 – 30 minutes before slicing and serving, if you can bear the wait. It’s also fabulous at room temperature and can (theoretically) keep for 3 – 4 days if kept wrapped or sealed in an air-tight container.

Makes 8 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe

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Bringing the Heat

Fire engine red bottles emblazoned by high-contrast white text and capped with neon-green lids roll rapidly off the production line, unmistakable even at breakneck speed. At last count, the Huy Fong sriracha factory churns out over 3,000 bottles an hour, 24 hours a day, six days a week. In case you’re still crunching the numbers, that adds up to literal tons of sriracha, not just every year or every month, but every week. The world has developed an insatiable appetite for this distinctive hot sauce, elevating it over the course of a few short decades from obscurity to utter ubiquity. A decent restaurant with a selection of condiments will carry it, right alongside the salt and pepper shakers. A house is not a home unless there’s at least one bottle chilling in the fridge or kicking around in the pantry. No one is immune to the universal appeal of perfectly balance sweet, spicy, salt, and savory flavors found in each fiery drop.

Many people, myself included, would put sriracha on anything edible, at least once. I have yet to find any truly distasteful pairing, running the gamut from breakfast pancakes to midnight snacks. It’s just a shame that the typical liquid format doesn’t lend itself well to more delicately honed ratios of confectionery, preventing it from spreading the spicy love across all forms of food… Until now.

Hot sauce heads and sweet tooth lovers, unite! Dry, powdered sriracha seasoning from Rodelle is about to become your new best friend. Though best known for their ambrosial vanilla offerings, Rodelle shows off their feisty side with this unbeatable blend of chili peppers, garlic, powdered vinegar, and sugar. Ideal for applications where additional moisture would definitely dampen spirits, such as sprinkling over fluffy popcorn or finishing off crisp bruschettas, for starters.

As mentioned briefly, my main focus here was on dessert right from square one. Playing right into the fine balance of this brilliant sauce, white chocolate and sweet potato lend a measured sweetness that works beautifully to highlight sriracha’s unique tang and heat. Shatter through the snowy white shell with one swift bite to reveal a creamy filling, bold but not overbearing, bouncing from numerous flavorful high notes in each bite.

Prepare yourself for a new seasoning sensation. This is only the beginning of a beautiful relationship full of sweetness and spice, unrivaled by any lesser “rooster” sauce.

This post was made possible thanks to Rodelle and their superlative spicy contributions.

White Hot Sweet Potato Truffles

8 Ounces Vegan White Chocolate, Homemade or Store-Bought
1/2 Cup Sweet Potato Puree
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Molasses
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Sriracha Seasoning, Divided

Begin by melting the white chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring periodically until completely smooth. Coat the insides of two small silicone bonbon molds with the melted chocolate, smoothing it up the sides of each cavity to ensure even coverage. Tap out any excess before stashing the molds in your freezer to set the truffle walls. Set the extra white chocolate aside for the time being.

To make the filling, simply combine the sweet potato puree, confectioner’s sugar, melted coconut oil, molasses, vanilla, and 2 teaspoons of the sriracha seasoning in a medium-sized bowl. Stir until all the ingredients are well combined and smooth.

Once the white chocolate has hardened, pull the molds out and fill them most of the way to the top with the sweet potato filling. Top each truffle off with a final drizzle of white chocolate, spreading it out to cover and seal all that sweet heat inside. Finish by sprinkling the remaining sriracha seasoning evenly on top before returning the candies to the freezer for at least 15 minutes.

When the white chocolate has fully set, the truffles can be stored in a cool, air-tight container for 3 – 5 days.

Makes About 30 Small Truffles

Printable Recipe


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Strawberries, Scoops, and Social Hour

June gloom is a real weather phenomenon that plagues much of the California coast, just as we begin to settle into a comfortable summer routine. Low lying fog clouds the city streets, bringing with it a clammy, cold dampness that’s hard to shake off. Though the southern part of the state is frequently credited for this plague, bay area residents are just as well versed in the ways of the haze. Though the effect has been mild this year, it’s still routine to bundle up in long sleeves and a jacket before heading out each morning.

That said, no temperature is ever too cold to enjoy ice cream. The frozen desserts program is already in full operation over at Nourish Cafe, where I’ve begun churning away to share some of my favorite sweet scoops. These new blends are based on my original recipes from Vegan a la Mode, retrofitted to accommodate a wider range of palates, preferences, and behind the scenes, commercial production. You really come to appreciate the ease in which full ice cream parlors dish out dozens of flavors once you’ve spend the weekend cooking and churning gallons of just two creamy bases.

It’s a labor of love, because now I can share my passion for ice cream with a whole new audience. Fresh Strawberry and Citrus Zinger Ice Cream are the current frozen features, available 7 days a week, rain or shine, gloom or summer glow. As we bid farewell to June, there’s nothing stopping the tidal wave of ice cream indulgence, which is why we’re celebrating with a grand ice cream social. If you’re local to the bay area, meet, greet, and eat with us! While mingling and munching, I’ll share tips on how to make healthier vegan frozen treats and answer all your churning questions. Don’t miss this premier plant-based ice cream social, if only for access to the unlimited topping bar.

If you’re not local, I’m very sorry for your loss. However, I would never be so cruel as to tease you with unattainable delicacies, out of reach but for a select few. You can whip up that very same strawberry sensation anywhere in the world- Although I’ve scaled down the batch for you, just in case you didn’t need to make 100+ servings at once.

Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream
Adapted from from Vegan a la Mode

1/2 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1 1/2 Tablespoons Arrowroot
1 Pounds Fresh Strawberries, Hulled and Roughly Chopped
1 1/2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
1 Cup Full-Fat (Canned) Coconut Milk
1/4 Cup Plain, Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/8 Teaspoon Salt

Vigorously whisk together the maple syrup and arrowroot in a medium saucepan. Once the starch is incorporated smoothly without any remaining lumps, add the strawberries. Pour in the non-dairy milk, stir to combine, and turn on the heat to medium. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, stewing the berries gently for about fifteen minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, incorporate the vanilla and salt, and cool completely.

Chill in the fridge for at least three hours before transferring the mixture to your blender and thoroughly pureeing. If you don’t have a high-speed blender that will thoroughly pulverize all of the fruit into a silky-smooth custard, pass the base through a fine-meshed strainer and discard the solids.

Churn according in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or give an alternative freezing method a spin!

Makes About 1 1/2 Quarts

Printable Recipe


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No Churn? No Problem!

tIn the heat of the moment, or scorching rays of the sun, as it may be, it’s easy to get carried away. Serial shoppers and gadgeteers alike can relate, getting swept up by the temptation of shiny new toys and tools guaranteed to make life easier, cleaner, brighter, tastier, smarter, or generally yet indefinably better. While ice cream makers are seen as a superfluous luxury good for most casual kitchen creatives, rapidly advancing technology has brought the average entry-level machine down to pocket change territory.  Even for an impulse buy, you could do much greater budgetary damage with just a few fancy umbrella drinks on the beach.


No-Churn Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

As a self-professed ice cream obsessive, it should come as no surprise that I’ll always advocate churning your own frozen treats above all else. Sadly, I’ve come across scores of misinformed folks that think it’s an arduous process, not worth the time or effort, having never been fortunate enough to taste the fruits of that labor themselves. Lacking the proper equipment should no longer be a valid excuse for not diving in, or at least dipping a toe in, to the refreshing world of iced sweet treats.

Believe it or not, any ice cream base can be made without a machine, right here and now, with a wide range of alternative methods at your disposal. Start with a solid recipe and clear out your freezer; your summer is about to get a whole lot cooler.


Carrot Granita

1. The Granita Method: A traditional Italian method of making fruit-based ices much like instant snow cones, this method creates desserts with larger, crunchy ice crystals. That same idea can be used with an ice cream base, and naturally yield smoother, creamier results. Simply prepare your ice cream recipe of choice as directed, and chill thoroughly. Pour out the cold mixture into a baking dish. The exact size is not important, provided it can fit comfortably in your freezer on a flat surface. Don’t chance it and try to balance the pan on top of numerous unequally sized items; trust me, it’s a pain to clean melted and re-frozen liquids from inside a freezer! Simply bear in mind that the larger the pan, the greater surface space the base will have, and the faster it will freeze.

Place your baking dish filled with liquid ice cream base in the freezer, and let it sit for 30 – 45 minutes. At this point, it should begin to freeze around the edges. Take a fork and scrape up those ice crystals into the center. Place it back in the freezer, and repeat this process every 30 minutes or so until the entire contents of the pan has frozen; approximately 2 – 3 hours, depending on the temperature of the freezer and size of the pan. When ready, spoon into glasses and serve immediately, or it will ultimately freeze solidly into once piece.

2. The Cube-and-Crush Method: Easier than the granita method but similar in concept, this approach is much less hands-on, so you can occupy yourself with other projects while the actual freezing takes place. Additionally, this procedure yields ice cream that’s more like a soft serve texture. Pour prepared and thoroughly chilled ice cream base into one or two ice cube trays, and set them on a flat surface in your freezer. Smaller cubes are better, as they’ll freeze faster and put less of a strain on your blender. Allow at least 6 – 8 hours for the ice cream cubes to freeze solidly, but you can prepare them up to this stage a day or two in advance. When the need for ice cream strikes, pop out at least one tray of cubes at a time, and plunk them into your blender or food processor. Begin by pulsing to break them up, and then puree just long enough to get the ice cream smooth and creamy. Be careful not to overdo it, or the entire mixture will melt. Serve immediately.


Citrus Popsicles

3. Popsicle Method: This should be a foreign concept to precisely no one, but an idea worth revisiting. All it takes is chilled ice cream base poured into pop molds and frozen until solid. To get a stick to stand up straight, be sure to insert it about 30 – 45 minutes after first placing the molds in the freezer, so that the mixture has had time to thicken up a bit. If you don’t already own molds, seek those that are BPA-free, or rig your own by lining up paper cups on a baking sheet. Lollipop sticks or wooden popsicle sticks can be found in most craft or kitchen supply stores.

4. Coffee Can/Baggie Method: Although arguably the most involved of all four approaches, this procedure can be a fun activity for a crowd, and especially with young children. It makes the smallest amount of ice cream at a time as well, so you must start with a maximum of only 2 cups (1 cup) of prepared, chilled ice cream base. In addition to the edibles, you will need a cleaned and rinsed coffee can that once held 3 pounds of coffee (gallon baggie), and a second that once held 1 pound of coffee (1-pint baggie). Additionally, you should have at least 1 ½ cups (6 tablespoons) of rock salt, 10 cups of ice cubes, and strong duct tape on hand.

Pour the chilled base into the smaller can, and tape it up tightly. Place it in the larger can, and surround it with salt and ice, layering the two a few scoops at a time. Seal the larger can with duct tape as well, and start rolling! Roll the can on its side, shake it up, or toss it around continuously; anything to keep it moving. The ice cream should be rather soft, but ready to eat in about 20 – 30 minutes.

Even if you can’t spare the cash or counter space for a full-featured ice cream machine, that shouldn’t stop you from chilling out with a double or triple scoop treat this season. Skip the churn, but give it a whirl!


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Cut and Dried

Populated by little more than starchy potatoes and papery onions mere weeks ago, market stalls are suddenly bursting with a rainbow of fresh produce. Giant, plump blueberries the size of grapes; gnarled heirloom tomatoes as unique and delicate as snowflakes; peaches fragrant enough to double as air fresheners; I want them all, and I want them in volume. I’m that hungry shopper tasting one of each sample, even when I know exactly what I’m going home with that day. I’m the one buying three pounds of strawberries for a recipe that only calls for two. The lure of summertime produce is one that I’m powerless against, buying in bulk despite cooking for one. I’ll eat cherries one after another, no matter how many are piled up high, until all my clothing is hopelessly stained red.

Still, endlessly voracious for that taste of sunshine, I can never get my fill. There’s only so much space in my freezer to save that seasonal bounty, and the laborious process of proper canning still eludes me. Options for preservation beyond a day at best have been severely lacking, until I stumbled upon the world of dehydration.

Embraced by the raw food movement for its ability to “cook” while preserving more nutrients than conventional heating methods, the concept itself is as old as time. Leave something edible out in the sun, keep away the bugs and prevent it from getting moldy, and slowly draw out the moisture until it can be stored for leaner times. Humidity, fluctuating temperatures, and the open air itself present serious barriers to upholding this time-honored tradition. Modern technology has gotten into the game, reviving the dehydration concept as more than just a utilitarian function, but also a doorway to more creative cuisine.

Given the opportunity to investigate the power of the Tribest Sedona Express, I jumped at the offer. Though I had dabbled in dehydration with a dinky little toy of a machine salvaged from a yard sale, my experience was limited, not to mention, unsatisfying. Now, after a year and a half of use, I can’t claim that it’s the first contraption I break out when developing new recipes, but it’s proven its value many times over.

This thing is a food drying powerhouse, bearing 1430 square inches of space across 11 trays to accommodate all the produce your heart desires. It heats up quickly and holds temperature reliably, unless you’d like to specify the intensity yourself at anywhere between 75 – 170 degrees. Long processing times are par for the course still, but no trouble with a 99-hour timer.

My studio is spatially challenged, to put it lightly, so I was reasonably concerned about adding the inherent noise that comes with such a hulking piece of machinery into the mix, working away through all hours of the night. Mercifully, my fears were unfounded; no louder than a modest propeller-driven table fan even on high, I slept soundly while the dehydrator powered through the AM hours.

That’s all well and good for basic pantry stockpiles, but what about the more important issue… Could it keep up with my snacking demands? Happily having munched my way through countless rounds of zucchini chips, coconut macaroons, and assorted fruit leathers, I can confidently report nothing but delicious experiences. One particular favorite that emerged through these trials was a buttery, cheesy vegetable in disguise that I like to call “CauliPop.” Cauliflower all dressed up like movie theater popcorn, it’s a compulsively edible nosh. While it would be a struggle to plow through a full heat of the stuff raw, it seems to disappear instantly once kissed by the warmth of the dehydrator. It’s the kind of deceptively simple formula that you’ll soon find yourself doubling and tripling to keep up with demand.

Emulating one of my favorite snack bar options, I knew it would be easy to cut the crap to fabricate an even simpler dupe. Only three ingredients are needed for these soft, chewy, and super sweet Banana-Nut Chia Bars, all of which are readily apparent from the title alone. In fact, you probably already have what it takes to make them right now! That trusty dehydrator was running nonstop when I finally hit upon the perfect ratio, handily replacing those packaged bars at a fraction of the cost.

Well into my 20th month with this beast on my side, I’m still finding new and delicious ways to use the Tribest Sedona Express. The manufacturer was kind enough to provide one for review, but no amount of fancy equipment could ever buy my praise. I can honestly say that if you’re serious about preservation, healthy snacking, or just playing around with your food, this is the model you want to harness.

CauliPop

1 Medium Head Cauliflower
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil, Melted
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1 Teaspoon Coarse Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric

Chop the cauliflower into approximately 1-inch florets, as consistent as possible to ensure they dry at an equal rate. Blanch them by plunging them into boiling water for 3 minutes, until fork-tender but still firm. Drop them into an ice bath to immediately stop the cooking process and drain thoroughly. Transfer to a large bowl.

Drizzle in the coconut oil and toss with the remaining seasonings until evenly coated. Place the florets directly on a wire rack, allowing ample space for air circulation, and set the dehydrator to 115 degrees. The “cooking” process will take anywhere from 12 – 24 hours, depending on your preferences. Pull the cauliflower earlier for a softer interior, or let it the machine run for the full cycle to get a crunchier bite throughout.

Makes 1 – 3 Servings

Printable Recipe

Banana-Nut Chia Bars

2 Large, Ripe Bananas
1/4 Cup Chia Seeds
2 Tablespoons Walnuts, Chopped

Mash the bananas and stir in the chia and walnuts. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes for the chia seeds to gel. Spread the mixture evenly over a non-stick drying sheet approximately 1/4-inch thick. Dehydrate at 145 degrees for 4 – 6 hours, or until dry to the touch, firm, and sliceable. Cut into squares or bars as desired.

Makes 6 – 8 Bars

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