BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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A Cheesecake for the Ages

Now synonymous with New York, the Americanized cheesecake as we know it has only been around for about a century, beginning life a mere shadow of the dense and rich dessert it became. In fact, cheesecake originated sometime around 1500 BCE, from the hands of inventive ancient Greeks and Romans, frequently used as offerings to the gods. This rendition merely combined soft cheese with flour and baked it into submission; pastry bases only emerged sometime in the first century, with sweeteners joining into the mix shortly thereafter. From that point forward, there was no stopping it. Today it might look like the explosion of cupcakes or other trendy food crazes, but of course, without the aid of social media, the cheesecake’s popularity spread at a glacial pace. Eventually reaching the hands of more creative bakers, various cultures developed their own unique approaches, utilizing various cheeses, flours, spices, and eventually, fruits and chocolates. We’ve come a long way, baby.

I’d like to think that the evolution of the cheesecake isn’t yet over. There’s still so much left to explore through the medium of tangy cream cheese perched atop a cookie-like base. In fact, going by that very loose description, why does it need to be a full-fledged cake at all? Can’t we bring it back from the edge of decadence and debauchery, back a bit closer to it’s more humble, less saccharine beginnings? I’m not suggesting we whip up a batch of salty cheese nuggets, but just consider a cheesecake fit for everyday eating, perhaps with a few nutritional benefits to speak of.

I bristle at the overused turn of phrase, but it really is true; you can finally have your cheesecake and eat it, too! Re-imagined for the 21st century, the illustrious dessert has been stripped of all its highfalutin’ frippery and restored back to its original brilliance, suitable for the commoner and the gods alike. Simple squares replace the traditional wedge, making a knife and fork unnecessary for enjoyment. What’s not so plain to see is that underneath the hood, these luscious bars conceal a considerable dose of plant-based protein, furnished by the new Pro(Zero) Natural Strawberry Jam Protein Powder. Simultaneously bolstering the structure of this snack and contributing volumes of fresh, fruity flavor, the powder’s inherent sweetness considerably reduces the need for added sugar. Remarkably flavorful, Pro(Zero) really nailed the flavor of ripe strawberries simmered down into a rich spread, condensed into a satisfying, wholesome package.

Oh, and most importantly of all, did I mention that the finished treats taste amazing? Sure, these brilliant little squares may be a far cry from what the ancient Greeks and Romans had in mind when they first invented the concept, but let’s be honest; they couldn’t even dream up a treat this heavenly, even if it was the food of the gods.

Strawberry Protein Cheesecake Bars

Oatmeal Cookie Crust:

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Water
1/4 Cup Coconut or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3/4 Cups Quick-Cooking Oats
1/2 Cup White Whole Wheat or All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Protein-Packed Strawberry Cheesecake Filling:

1 1 12-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
1 (8-Ounce) Container Vegan Cream Cheese
1/2 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Strawberry Jam Protein Powder
1/3 Cup + 1/4 Cup Strawberry Jam or Preserves, Divided
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line an 8×8-inch square baking dish with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Whisk together the olive oil, water, and sugar in a medium-sized bowl before adding in the remaining dry ingredients for the crust. Stir well to combine and form a cohesive but slightly crumbly dough. Transfer the mixture into your prepared pans; using lightly moistened hands, press it into the bottom of your pan so that it’s in one even layer. Bake 15 – 18 minutes until lightly browned and let cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by first draining the tofu of any excess water before tossing it into your food processor or blender. Puree thoroughly until completely smooth. Add in the “cream cheese” and pulse to incorporate. Scrape down the sides and blend again, ensuring that no lumps remain before adding the protein powder, 1/3 cup of the strawberry jam, lemon juice, and vanilla. Blend thoroughly until completely smooth and creamy.

Pour the cheesecake filling on top of the par-baked crust, and smooth out the top with your spatula. Tap it gently on the counter a few times to knock out any air bubbles. Take the remaining 1/4 cup of strawberry jam and spoon dollops all over the surface. Use a flat knife or spatula to gently marble and swirl the jam throughout, being careful not to disturb the crust underneath.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the edges appear set but the center remains ever so slightly wobbly when tapped. It will continue to firm up as it cools.

Let cool completely before moving it into the refrigerator, where it will continue to solidify until it can finally be sliced into bars, after a minimum of 4 hours.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe

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


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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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Kept On Ice

UPDATE: Okay folks, I’ve let this go on for long enough… APRIL FOOLS! I’m sad to say, it was all a bit of fun in this name of today’s “holiday.” Although I thought everyone would figure it out immediately, I didn’t expect such an outpouring of enthusiasm and support. Instead of getting a laugh out of it, I ended up feeling more dejected that I wouldn’t be able to deliver on this artificial promise.

Rest assured, I do genuinely want to create this book, but I haven’t yet found a publisher willing to take it on. Right now, it’s just a pipe dream, but this whole affair gives me hope that it may still happen some day. Thank you, everyone, for providing such persuasive inspiration!

It’s no secret that I play favorites when it comes to dessert, and regardless of the season, my preference invariably points to chilliest option on the menu. Creamy and cool, a generous scoop of ice cream always hits the spot. Wrapping up production on Vegan a la Mode was one of the most difficult publishing decisions I made back in the day, still bursting with frosty inspiration but running up against the threat of harsh deadlines, a lot was ultimately left unsaid. Even worse, a lot was left unchurned.

For years now, since the moment that original tome hit the market, I’ve been pining for an excuse to revisit that file of unrealized potential. Well, the idea of making a sequel is no longer just an empty threat; it’s about to become a sweet reality.

Vegan a la Mode: The Second Scoop will pick up right where the first cookbook left off, with never-before-tasted flavors like Tamarind-Chile Ice Cream, Nesselrode Pie Ice Cream, and Butterbeer Ice Cream. Unique frozen confections will feature prominently this time around, bringing fun new serving suggestions like Neapolitan Spaghetti Ice Cream and Lava Flow Bombes to the table when you’re craving a real show-stopping grand finale.

Pushing ahead at break-neck speed to meet the imminent summer 2016 release, I simply couldn’t wait any longer to share the delicious news. Stand by for pre-orders and the final cover art, coming soon!


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Love Triangle

Don your silliest costumes and rattle your noise-makers; Purim is around the corner! As one of the most joyous events on the Jewish calendar, games of chance, dancing, and parades are just the beginning of the fun festivities. Marked by vibrant color and a celebratory cacophony, it should only follow suit that the iconic food of the day, the hamantaschen, should follow suit. While the multi-colored fruit fillings contribute that particular visual impression, the uproar can often be attributed to the baker’s wailing over the fickle, uncooperative dough. Even the most experienced kitchen wizards sometimes get tripped up on this buttery pastry shell.

While everyone has their favorite flavors, from classic poppy seed to nouveau yuzu marmalade, the very same base is essential for hamantaschen mastery. Rather than leave you simply with a tried-and-true formula, I thought I might share a few tips to improve the end results, no matter what recipe makes the cut.

  • Start with shortening. It’s not the most flavorful fat on the shelf, but you can make up for that with citrus zest, spices, or concentrated baking extracts if that really bothers you. Nothing else works quite as well for this very rich dough. Vegetable shortening has less water than vegan butter and a higher melting point, which means your cookies are less liable to spread or, worst case scenario, liquefy in the oven.
  • Chill out. Keep all of your components as cold as possible, including the filling and even the rolling pin. The structure of the cookies becomes increasingly unstable with every passing minute once dough begins to warm up, so work quickly and handle it as little as possible.
  • Keep on rolling. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible, to about an 1/8th of an inch at most, so that the corners won’t crack when you begin to fold. Denser dough will also affect the rate of baking, causing the cookies to open up while still soft and impressionable.
  • Portion control. Apply the filling sparingly (no more than a teaspoon for a 2 1/2-inch round of dough) to prevent overflow. It may seem stingy at a glance, but a little bit really does go a long way.
  • Get the seal of approval. Pinch those corners very firmly to ensure that they adhere, and if they’re giving you trouble, add a tiny dab of water to act as glue.
  • Time to shine. For a very subtle finishing gloss, lightly paint the exposed dough with an even coat of equal parts agave and aquafaba and a tiny pinch of salt. The combination of sugar and protein will help add just a touch of added glamour and enhance browning.

Do you have any hamantaschen secrets of your own? Favorite recipes for dough or fillings? Don’t forget to share, and keep the noise in the kitchen just as jubilant as in the party!


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Ben & Jerry’s – The Inside Scoop

Blinking sleepily, stupidly at the gate, it took a full ten minutes for the meaning of the digital scrawl to sink in. My cross-country, red-eye flight had been further delayed, now rescheduled to depart sometime in the predawn hour of 2AM. A punishing schedule already awaited me upon arrival, complete with a second plane to catch and events lined up from the moment the wheels hit the tarmac. For all this tumult, I would only be in Burlington, Vermont for a two days all told. What on earth could possible be worth that kind of suffering?

Ice cream. And not just any ice cream, but Ben & Jerry’s new 100% vegan line of almond milk frozen desserts. It’s the one food news story that the whole world is buzzing about lately, omnivorous or otherwise, and I was given the rare opportunity to see the birthplace of this extraordinary creation.

Though the dead of winter would be my last choice for when to visit this picturesque east coast town, the white carpet of snow and cozy blanket of clouds were not without their charms. If only I had an extra day, or perhaps even an extra hour, I would have loved to explore the myriad vegan restaurants just around the corner, but I was here on a bigger mission.

Along with a select group of exclusive, top drawer food bloggers, I was treated to an incredible adventure in the Ben & Jerry’s factory and test kitchen. Our main objective, of course, was to get the goods on the buzz-worthy new pints, developed both for the sake of hungry customers demanding dairy-free options, and to decrease the deleterious environmental impact that goes along with milk production. It was made very clear that these four initial flavors are only the beginning of that pursuit. Although it took 3 years and between 70 – 90 trials in development, there are promising hints that pending the success of this launch, we may eventually have even more flavors tempting us on store shelves.

Delicious and ambrosial as the tasting session was, my highlight of the trip was getting the opportunity to play around with the almond milk base to fabricate a “limited edition” frozen dessert. So exclusive that you will never see it in production, it was still a joy to mix up a big batch of the creamy concoction with any and all the chunky mix-ins my heart desired. Working in teams, my group was responsible for unleashing the “Drunk’n Pumpk’n Pie” upon the party, complete with toasted marshmallows, graham cracker crust pieces, and a generous splash of bourbon. Each spoonful had a whole lot of spirit, but alas, it was no match for the truly superlative “Southern Roots” dreamed up by the competition.

Ben & Jerry’s, if you’re listening: Please put this one on the official line up! Outrageously thick ribbons of caramel swirled through every square inch of the creamy peach bourbon jam base with a hint of cinnamon, intertwining with crunchy chunks of toasted pecans. Within our small, secret sampling society, this creative and unabashedly indulgent mix was a hands-down winner.

But… What about the REAL dairy-free offerings now hitting grocery store shelves and scoop shops nationwide, you ask?

For the full scoop on the flavors themselves and my personal tasting notes, head over to my official review on Go Dairy Free.

This post was is sponsored by Ben & Jerry’s, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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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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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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