BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Get Real

The question of “realness” is one for the ages. It’s a term that gets tossed around all across the board these days, sprinkled into conversation like confetti to both emphasize and punctuate a thought. Eating “real” food is an admirable goal, but what does it really mean? Striving to eat “healthy” food ranks right up there alongside the concept, but realness takes it a step further. If you ask me, the idea behind real food has so much more substance than any quick-fix diet plan, and bears much greater meaning once you peel back the flaky exterior. Real food is wholesome, derived from nature and not a test tube, something that anyone with even the foggiest vision could recognize as edible. Real food is practical, fundamentally within the grasp of the average cook, be it their best or worst day, busiest or most leisurely moment. Real food, above all else, nourishes on a holistic level, feeding the body and heart in the same heaping spoonful.

This is my ode to realness and my invitation to anyone else who’s felt flummoxed, infuriated, or frustrated by the vagaries of the word. I’m thrilled to announce my fifth cookbook, and my very first entry into the savory arena, Real Food, Really Fast. Recipes run the gamut from breakfast to dessert, and believe it or not, all can be completed in 10 minutes or less. Speed was the biggest challenge in development, but flavor was an absolute necessity. If it doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t belong in any cookbook, period. The full-color photos accompanying each and every recipe are the icing on the cake, the siren song luring hesitant readers to take a closer look, but even the most glamorous hero shots wouldn’t save a lackluster dish. I’m asking you to keep it real, so the least I can do is hold up my end of that bargain too.

Get excited, jump right in and pre-order (please!) but try to contain yourself, just as I’m struggling to do right now. The release date is still many months away, but there’s good news in that long stretch of silence: I’m now looking for recipe testers to help vet these dishes and make sure they’re all truly fit to print! It’s a tough job that takes dedication, precision, and most importantly… Hunger. Accessibility is essential to my recipes so there’s no presumed skill level here. If you’ve ever held a knife and cut a vegetable before, congratulations, you’re a qualified applicant! Please get in touch with me at hannah @ mysweetvegan.com (no spaces) if you’re interested in joining forces to craft a better cookbook.

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Dig In

Unless referring to the planet itself, “earthy” is a descriptor of dubious praise. Much like the ambiguous label of “interesting,” such a word can be interpreted in many ways- Mostly negative. Mushrooms and beets can be earthy, and for as fervently as their fan clubs will tout the word as praise, their detractors just as quickly adopt it as evidence for their disdain. Telling someone to “eat dirt,” is a fairly clear insult, on the other hand, although I have no qualms recommending charcoal, ash, or lava for your next meal. Still, the mental imagery of picking up a handful of soil and chowing down inevitably leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

This was the war of words I battled when agonizing on this new recipe’s title. Designed as a celebration of spring, gardening, and new growth, the original title was simply “Dirt Dip.” The dirty truth of the matter is that each distinctive strata was inspired by nature; worms, dirt, pebbles, and grass. Appetizing, right? Perhaps honesty is not the best policy here. Let’s start over.

Bursting forth with vibrant flavors ideal for celebrating the vernal equinox, I present to you my layered garden party dip. A base of savory caramelized onions sets a deeply umami foundation upon which this dynamic quartet is built. Fresh lemon and mint mingle just above in a creamy yet chunky black bean mash. Briny black olive tapenade accentuates these bold flavors, adding an addictive salty note that makes it impossible to resist a double-dip. Sealing the deal is a fine shower of snipped chives, lending a mellow onion note to bring all the layers together. Make sure you really dig in deep to get a bite of each one!

4-Layer Garden Party Dip

Caramelized Onions:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion, Halved and Thinly Sliced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Lemon-Mint Black Bean Dip:

1 15-Ounce Can (or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Black Beans, Drained and Rinsed
3 Cloves Roasted Garlic
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Tablespoon Fresh Mint, Finely Chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Tapenade:

1 Cup Pitted Black Olives
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 Clove Garlic
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Chopped

Garnish:

1/2 – 1 Ounce Fresh Chives, Finely Chopped

The caramelized onions will take the longest to prepare, so get them cooking first by setting a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and sliced onion, tossing to coat. Once the pan is hot and the onions become aromatic, turn down the heat to low and slowly cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 – 45 minutes until deeply amber brown. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, make the bean dip by either tossing everything into your food processor and pulsing until fairly creamy and well-combined, or mashing the ingredients together in a large bowl by hand. You want to leave the dip fairly coarse for a more interesting texture, so stop short of a smooth puree if using the machine.

The tapenade is made just as easily. Either pulse all of the components together in your food processor or chop them by hand, until broken down and thoroughly mixed.

Finally, to assemble the dip, select a glass container to enjoy the full effect of your work. Smooth the caramelized onions into the bottom in an even layer, followed by the bean dip and then the tapenade. Sprinkle chives evenly all over the top. Serve at room temperature or chilled, with cut vegetable crudites, crackers, or chips.

The dip can be prepared in advance if stored in an air-tight container in the fridge, for up to a week.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Monochromatic, Never Monotonous

In such murky, turbulent times, it’s comforting to know that some things remain clearly defined in black and white. Even through the dense fog of uncertainty, it’s easy to identify a satisfying meal when you see one. Should it be clad in an attractive range of tones that never deviate too far from one scale of the color spectrum, so much the better.

Black pasta is crowning jewel of this monochromatic treasure chest, arrestingly dark spirals twisting through a sea of contrasting produce. Though the concept would traditionally suggest that squid ink was at play, the rise in popularity of charcoal has brought a new tint onto the food scene. I can’t vouch for its “detoxing” abilities, nor do I care to test out the claims; what interests me most is the dusky onyx hue it imparts to everything it touches.

In truth, you could pair absolutely anything with those obsidian twisted noodles with equal success and beauty, but the bold visuals of pale white cauliflower and tofu feta create stunning visual appeal, and an equally stellar flavor profile. Briny kalamata olives join the party to add a salty top note, accentuating the deeper roasted flavor of the cruciferous addition and lightly caramelized onions. Pine nuts add an occasional crunch to keep every bite exciting.

Plan ahead for this meal and everything will come together quite easily. Handmade pasta is definitely a labor of love, but can be prepared well in advance to save you the struggle when the dinner hour rolls around. Trofie, my shape of choice, is a Ligurian pasta that is already vegan by nature, no eggs needed. Rolled by hand into bite-sized twirls, it requires no special machinery, but can be time-consuming to complete. Feel free to go a simpler route with basic linguine or spaghetti to save yourself the hassle. The pasta will taste just as good, and look every bite as darkly handsome.

Black Trofie Pasta

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Food-Grade Charcoal Powder
1 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 – 1 Cup Water

Place the flour, charcoal, and salt in a large bowl, whisking thoroughly to equally distribute the ingredients. Make a well in the center and pour 3/4 cup of water. Begin mixing the flour into the water, maintaining the well in the center as best you can. When the mixture gets too thick for a fork, drop the fork and get your hands in there to continue mixing. Drizzle in additional water as needed to incorporate all of the flour to form a cohesive dough. It should feel tacky but not sticky.

Knead on a lightly-floured surface for 8 – 10 minutes, until very smooth. Let the dough rest for an hour before proceeding, or cover with plastic wrap, place in the fridge, and let rest overnight.

To shape the noodles, first lightly flour a baking sheet and clean work surface.

Flatten the dough out into a disk and cut a strip about 1/2-inch wide. Don’t worry too much about the exact measurements, since you will next roll it into a rope about half that width. Slice it into 1/4-inch pieces.

Take one nugget at a time and rub it between your palms, creating a small cylinder with tapered ends. For extra flare, you can further twist the shapes to create ridges, but for an “authentic” trophie, you only need to rub the dough between your hands three or four times to create each noodle. Drop the finished shapes onto your awaiting baking sheet. Let the noodles rest and lightly air-dry, uncovered, for at least one hour before cooking.

The pasta will cook in boiling water in just 30 – 120 seconds (yes, seconds, not minutes!) depending on the thickness of your noodles. Stand by and taste-taste for when they’re perfectly al dente.

Makes About 1 Pound; 4 Servings

Black and White Pasta

1 Batch Black Trofie Pasta, Above

1 Head Cauliflower, Cut into Florets
1/2 Medium White Onion, Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

1/2 Cup Kalamata Olives, Pitted and Halved
5 Ounces Tofu Feta, Roughly Crumbled
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Toss the cauliflower, onion, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl until the vegetables are evenly coated. Spread everything out on your prepared baking sheet in an even layer, making sure nothing overlaps, and slide it into the hot oven. Roast for about 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is golden brown and fork-tender.

Toss the roasted vegetables together with the cooked pasta, kalamata olives, tofu feta, and pine nuts. Add in a tiny splash of the pasta cooking water if desired, to give the dish a bit more moisture. Serve immediately, while piping hot.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Got Greens?

Milk mustaches are out; juice mustaches are in. Unlocking a world of flavor and liquid nutrition that dairy could only dream of, it’s no surprise that fresh pressed produce has taken up the torch in this race for beverage dominance. Green Mustache is one of many companies making a splash with blended fruit and vegetable smoothies, all built upon a foundation of leafy greens like kale and spinach. Inspirational though unexceptional in this burgeoning field, the differentiating factor in their origin story is that these drinks are blended with younger tastes in mind, palatable for both kids and adults alike. More importantly, they don’t neglect the need for more traditional snacks with more mainstream appeal, which is what first sparked my attention- And appetite.

Though not green in color or overt taste, Mustache Munchies “Cheddarish” Crackers quietly sneak a serving of vegetative goodness into these adorable handlebar crisps. Tanned to a gentle golden hue, these aren’t the screaming florescent orange wafers of similar mainstream competitors. Instead, they’re a study of careful balance and nuance, bearing a subtle nutty undertone and light but naturally cheesy essence. Each piece is a perfect little bite, ensuring no crumbs nor mess to contend with later when munching on the run.

As a serial granola bar-eater, sweet snacks start to lose their appeal early on in the day, which makes these satisfyingly crunchy crackers an ideal alternative. I never thought a mustache might look good on me, but these lightly salted morsels could add stylish new flair to any smiling face.


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Bowl Me Over

Even the auto-correct function on my phone knows me better than to suggest I might be a sports fan. After typing in a casual comment about the upcoming Superbowl, I glanced back to discover that, unbeknownst to me, the conversation had suddenly become about a “superb owl.” Thank goodness we have such advanced artificial intelligence to set me straight here, but now I’m unreasonably curious about what would make any average owl truly “superb.”

Technological tangents aside, it’s true that I have no intention of suddenly becoming a football aficionado. I am, however, quite passionate about a different sort of super bowl, born of a much more satisfying sort of culinary action, and with far less potential for full-contact injuries. In recent days I’ve shared two of these superlative bowl-based meals on Go Dairy Free that would be ideal for the cold days of February ahead.

When you’re craving a bite of comfort, few dishes can rival the universal appeal of mashed potatoes and gravy. This all-in-one Mashed Potato Bowl with Creamy Cashew Gravy is savory and deeply satisfying, layered with a mélange of seasonal vegetables and hearty plant-based protein. Best of all, each component can be prepped separately in advance and thrown together in short order.

Dressed in a stunning shade of lavender and studded with deep purple gems, it’s easy to see at a glance that this is no average potato soup. Thai flavors meld with unsweetened coconut milk in my Purple Potato-Eater Chowder to create a warming, soulful, yet remarkably delicate brew. Plain purple potatoes are responsible for the unmistakable color, although purple sweet potatoes could be swapped in for a richer flavor.

Whether you’re gearing up for game day or on the lookout for exceptional birds of prey this weekend, you’ll want these recipes on hand for some hearty, healthy eats. Hit the links for details!


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Bursting with Flavor

It was a warm summer day, just like any other, when I boarded a plane in Austin with a bomb in my luggage.

No, scratch that: Dozens, if not hundreds, of tiny little bombs, all packed neatly in my carry-on bag. Rest assured that security was no slouch, pulling me aside to examine the explosive contents, but still I slid through without much incident. Before I incite mass panic here, let me clarify that these bombs were only of the edible variety, bursting with energy and flavor, rather than actual firepower.

Returning home from a food-focused convention, I still felt like I was getting away with robbery, if not a greater crime of terrorism. Enjoy Life Foods had been one of the very few vegan sponsors and at the end of the event, unloaded nearly their entire supply of uneaten samples into my hungry hands. Yes, untold numbers of the brand new ProBurst Energy Bites were now mine to savor, if only I could transport them back across state lines. Though the physical weight was considerable, there’s nothing I won’t do for good food… Even if the x-ray results looked mighty questionable, and TSA cross-examination is never a fun addition to the travel agenda.

Think of the classic Larabar composition of a blended nut-and-seed bar but considerably less chewy, chop it up into bite-sized pieces, and drench the whole thing in chocolate, and you might get a vague idea of the goodness that goes into each little nugget. Each of the four flavors straddles the thin line that separates dessert from snack, pulling in impressive nutritional numbers while handily satisfying the most demanding sweet tooth.

Adventurous flavor combinations further distinguish these treats from the wide variety of energy bars already flooding the marketplace. Mango Habanero and Cranberry Orange are slightly less conventional pairings, yet there’s not a loser between them. SunSeed Butter offers nut-free peanut butter doppelganger, and my personal favorite, Cinnamon Spice, adds a balanced warmth to the dark chocolate foundation.

Although it seemed like an absurd haul at the time, guaranteed to last a lifetime for any reasonable snacker, it was a sad day when my supply finally ran dry. Thank goodness these bites are finally available for retail purchase– Especially if it means I won’t need to secretly smuggle them back home in bulk anymore.


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Steamy Secrets

It’s remarkable how the most ubiquitous, seemly mundane ingredients can be utterly transformed with a fresh perspective. For example, eggplants show up in nearly every culture, every grocery store, and every cookbook. For the wide range of varieties available across the world, accompanied by the distinctive palate of flavors that each locale prefers, there’s truly an eggplant preparation for everyone. Despite the abundance of options, it seems we’re drawn back to the same recipes time and again, sticking to the familiar for the sake of simplicity. That was certainly the case for me, which is why the promise of an all-eggplant cooking class held both intrigue and skepticism. What new was there to learn about this staple vegetable that I naively presumed had already divulged its culinary secrets long ago?

The one way I would never have attempted to cook an eggplant turned out to be one of the most revolutionary. Believe it or not, steaming these burnished violet nightshades created one of the most superlative eggplant dishes to hit my plate in years. Previously ignorant to this dramatic metamorphosis, the idea of steamed eggplant sounded about as appealing as stewed gym socks. On the contrary, the softened and shredded fruit is downright silky, luxuriously caressing the tongue with unexpected richness.

Hailing from China, this unsung hero of eggplant cookery comes to life with an impossibly creamy glaze of toasted sesame, soy sauce, vinegar, and a gentle kick of heat. Such complex flavors seem to contradict the simple procedure, but that’s the true beauty of this secret formula. This radical departure from the standard menu was right there all along, hidden in plain sight

Beijing-Style Steamed Eggplant with Sesame Sauce
by Chef Philip Gelb

2 Chinese Eggplants, Halved Lengthwise
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Teaspoons Light Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Black Vinegar
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Palm Sugar
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 Tablespoon Chili Paste (Optional)
1 Thinly Sliced Scallion, to Garnish

Steam the eggplants for 10 – 15 minutes, until very tender. Meanwhile, combine all the remaining ingredients for the sauce in a large bowl.

Let the eggplants cool for a few minutes so that you can handle them comfortably, and then use your hands to tear them into long strips.

Toss the eggplants with the sauce and top with scallion. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

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