BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Treasure Chestnuts

Inspired by the Japanese kuri gohan, the beauty of this side dish is its simplicity, highlighting the seasonal delight that is freshly roasted chestnuts. Harmonizing with the naturally nutty flavor of brown rice, those toothsome grains cling to each tender morsel for an incredibly satisfying bite. Though chestnuts are sadly hard to come by when winter ends, you’ll find yourself craving this combination all year long.

Chestnut Rice

2 Cups Short Grain Brown Rice
2 1/2 Cups Water
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Roughly Chopped, Roasted and Shelled Chestnuts (About 20)
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon Toasted Black Sesame Seeds

My favorite way to prepare this dish is in an electric pressure cooker since it’s so crazy fast, but it can just as easily be made on the stove top. If working with a pressure cooker, simply toss in the rice, water, salt, chopped chestnuts, and butter or oil. Lock in the lid and set it to 20 minutes on high pressure. Once that time has elapsed, quick release by opening up the valve to immediately discharge the built up pressure. Stand back and cover with a dish towel to prevent any spray or steam burns. Let the rice stand for 5 more minutes before uncovering.

For stove top prep, combine the water, salt, and butter or oil in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the rice and chestnuts, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently for 45 to 50 minutes, until the liquid has fully absorbed. Let stand for 5 more minutes.

Top with sesame seeds right before serving.

Makes 4 Servings as a Side Dish

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Treat Yourself Well

Highly skeptical, but equally ravenous, I tore into the tiny package with abandon. Crunchy cookies never get as much love as the giant, soft and chewy sort popularized by American bakeries; a bias that I too am guilty of possessing. That said, despite being dubious of the format, there seemed to be a lot of potential locked away in these single-serve packages of Zemas Madhouse Wholegrain Cookies.

Placing an emphasis on wholesome ingredients and nutritionally sound snacks, these are not just empty sugar bombs to throw down when cravings strike. Rather, they’re designed to satiate and energize, and all in good taste, of course. Sorry to spoil the surprise; each variety wildly exceeded all expectations on that front.

Sweet Potato Spice impresses with a flavor profile that actually tastes like yam, as promised! Tossed in not just for color, but genuine flavor, it’s subtly spiced bite pock marked with equally crisp pepitas for an added nutty undertone. Oatmeal Cranberry follows up with a strong encore of millet, quinoa, and amaranth as well as the aforementioned featured grain. Comforting, cozy, and easy to eat, the addition of chewy cranberries adds nice textural contrast, softening the cookies overall and bringing to mind the warmth of a bowl of hot oatmeal.

Chocolate Chip starts with a creamy vanilla base, but that rich chocolate flavor sure does carry! A snack that could transcend all boundaries, this timeless treat would be an easy hit with any crowd. This tastes like childhood but with wisdom beyond its years. Double Chocolate Chip follows up that stellar performance with a slightly softer bite with a pure cocoa base that provides less contrast than the previous option, but supports the chips with a more serious, slightly bitter edge. The overall impact is surprisingly sophisticated for such an unassuming little package.

Did I mention that all of these mini cookies, for all their benefits, are also certified gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, top 8 allergen-free, and kosher? That’s quite a mouthful of dietary designations, which is perhaps fitting for these bold little snacks. Despite my initial misgivings about crunchy cookies, these diminutive treats from Zemas break the mold, offering something that defies the category as beneficial to both the body and soul.


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Deep-Freeze Delights

Given my extreme aversion to even the slightest hint of cold temperatures, it can be quite challenging to placate the daily cravings for ice cream when the dark ages of winter arrive. Usually, it’s a battle of mind over matter, ignoring the chills that go down my spine, shivering through every sweet lick. Particularly bad cases will send me straight to the tea kettle for sips to thaw out of the inevitable brain freeze. The pain is always worth the pleasure, but surely, there must be a better way to sooth the more sensitive sweet tooth.

Not only is there a way to stay toasty and warm while snacking, but there’s an even healthier way to indulge, too. Froozer is a great tasting frozen snack made with 100%fruit – all the goodness and great taste of perfectly ripened fruits, with no added sugar, juice or concentrate. The moment I first tried these wholesome treats, I knew it would shake up my whole winter routine. First of all, these are not mere popsicles flavored with juice or concentrate, but fully blended fruits with nothing added nor taken away. Stunningly creamy and sweet without any sugar, each slow-churned flavor tastes as bright and fresh as a summer’s day. Before I knew it, I was even tossing them into smoothies for instant morning fuel, delicious enough to qualify as milkshakes.

Still, as the frigid winds howled with increasing volume outside, I found myself on the verge of a seriously hangry meltdown… When I realized that’s exactly what I should do. Since they’re made of simply whole fruits, each stick is like an instant flavor infusion for any recipe, ready in your freezer whenever you are. Thinking quickly and pulling ingredients from the pantry, it was a matter of minutes before a brand new cookie creation came to be.

An edible island escape, the sprightly combination of pineapple, mango, and banana found within each Tropical Sunset frozen fruit snack transforms a pile of shredded coconut into an nutritious and delicious bite of paradise. These coconut macaroons couldn’t be more simple to craft, which is why they suit this no-nonsense source of inspiration so well.

It might be tough to sacrifice that perfectly churned, creamy consistency by bringing up the temperature a bit, but once you taste these new, equally satisfying healthy confections, you won’t regret taking the risk.

This post was made possible thanks to Froozer and Mambo Sprouts.

Tropical Sunset Coconut Macaroons

1/4 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
6 Froozer Tropical Sunset Frozen Snacks, Thawed
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Shredded Coconut

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the melted coconut oil, thawed Froozer snacks, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Add in the shredded coconut and stir thoroughly to combine. Once the whole mixture is homogeneous, scoop out cookies with a small ice cream scoop and place on a small sheet pan. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour, or expedite the process by stashing them in the freezer for 20 minutes. Store in an air-tight container either in the fridge or in a cool, dark place. The cookies will keep for 5 – 7 days.

Makes 12 – 15 Cookies

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Perfect Party Pearings

Take a deep breath: You’ve survived another grueling round of holiday merriment. Feasts have been devoured and mountains of torn wrapping paper lay in ruin. It may very well look like a bomb went off in the living room, complete with tinsel shrapnel and carpet stains that will haunt you for the rest of your days, but the deed has been done, the festivities successfully completed.

But before you lock the doors tight, entering into full hibernation mode, don’t forget that one last hurrah remains. In less than one week’s time, the calendar mandates yet another grand celebration, demanding every last iota of enthusiasm remaining following the Christmas craze. With dishes still stacked precariously in the sink, it’s a lot to consider. For the New Year, however, it’s time to give yourself a gift if you’re bold enough to take the reins as host or hostess once again, and just take it easy.

Skip the elaborate dinner menu in favor of simple, snackable small plates. Your guests are undoubtedly worn out from holiday excesses as well, happily munching at a slower pace while enjoying each others’ company. Crostini (or bruschetta, if you prefer) are the ideal vehicle for any sort of sweet or savory toppings, so for my festive suggestion, I would like to raise a literal and figurative toast to both ends of the taste spectrum.

A golden platform of crusty bread supports a creamy, rich schmear of cream cheese, contrasted by the tender, sweet, and slightly tart bite of pomegranate-infused pears. Sturdy enough to withstand advanced prep and a full evening at ambient temperature, these understated yet spectacular little morsels are your ideal party guests. They’re guaranteed to never overstay their welcome, either.

Pomegranate and Pear Crostini

Pomegranate Poached Pears:

3 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
1 Cup 100% Apple Juice
1/3 Cup Maple Syrup
1 Whole Vanilla bean, Split and Scraped
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
4 Firm Bartlett, Anjou or Bosc Pears, Peeled, Halved, and Cored

For Assembly:

1 Baguette, Sliced Thinly and Toasted
1 Cup Vegan Cream Cheese, Store-Bought or Homemade
1 Pomegranate, Arils Removed

Combine the pomegranate juice, apple juice, maple syrup, vanilla bean seeds, and black pepper in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Serve the spent vanilla bean pods for making vanilla sugar, or another recipe.

Bring the liquid bring to a gentle simmer and add the pears. Cover and cook for 20 – 30 minutes, until the pears are just fork-tender. Remove the fruit from the saucepan and chill thoroughly before slicing. Don’t toss the excess poaching liquid- It’s fantastic mixed with a bit of chilled champagne for your New Year’s toast.

To assemble, spread the slices of toasted baguette generously with cream cheese and top each one with a slice of poached pear. Finish with a sprinkle of pomegranate arils and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 16 – 24 Servings

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Take a Trip Down Candy Cane Lane

Crisp and clean, an invigorating icy sensation greets me right as the sun begins to awake from its slumber on this early December morning. No, it’s not a fluke snow storm visiting California for the first time in years, but a wintry treat hailing from the warmth of the kitchen.

While the threat of actual flurries strikes fear into my heat-seeking heart, the oral chill of peppermint is an entirely different story. Be it pungent and herbaceous or smooth and subtle, I can’t get enough of the flavor, particularly when Christmas rolls around with an endless supply of candy canes around every corner. Those brittle sticks of red and white striped sugar are never going to inspire a frenzied Instagram fad like some popular seasonal sweets, but they’ll always be an essential element of the holiday season.

It’s never too early to get into the spirit, so a light, bright, candy cane smoothie is just the ticket, no matter what the weather is outside!

Pairing up bananas and mint together may sound like disastrous blind date, but hear me out on this one. In their unripe state, those tropical fruits merely lend creaminess and body to the blend, without any discordant flavor. Mint is powerful enough to speak above the subtle undertones anyhow, so all you’ll get is pure, bright, peppermint power with every sip. With this fool-proof formula, there’s no reason why you can’t make every day a holiday.

Candy Cane Lane Smoothie

3 Small Unripe Bananas, Frozen
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Protein Powder
1 Cup Non-Dairy Milk
1 – 2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup or Light Agave Nectar
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract
1 Tablespoon Beet Powder

Toss the frozen bananas, protein powder, non-dairy milk, 1 tablespoon syrup, and 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract into your blender. Puree until perfectly smooth, taste, and adjust sweetness and minty-ness to taste, as needed.

Pour half of the mixture into a separate pitcher and set aside. Add the beet powder to the blender and puree to incorporate.

Layer the two colors into a glass to create red and white stripes, gently stirring just before serving for a slightly marbleized effect. Add a straw and drink in that refreshing wintry goodness!

Makes 1 Serving

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Welcome to the Dark Side

Maybe the most ardent shoppers are still shaking off crushing food comas from the previous night’s excess, but I’m ready to call it early: Black Friday has lost all credibility. Gone are the lines snaking through parking lots, populated by die-hard bargain hunters setting up camp up to a day in advance. 3 AM wake up calls are almost entirely a thing of the past, owing to advanced Thanksgiving day openings, if they didn’t simply leave those automatic glass doors yawning wide open all night long. Most notably on the list of offenses, however, is the fact that it’s not even a single day anymore. How can you call it Black Friday when the big ticket, door buster deals hit a week ago, if not earlier? Perhaps it’s just my heart that’s gone black this year, but I’m officially burned out on this buying and selling insanity.

No, on second thought, I take it back. It’s more than just my black heart speaking, it’s also the black stew percolating on the stove that’s keeping me away from the celebration of consumerism this afternoon.

There’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of darkness, especially when it comes primarily in the form of rich, nutty tahini paste. Quite the rarity despite the popularity of standard blonde sesame butter, black tahini is in a category all its own. I was lucky enough to score a jar while visiting the Living Tree Community Foods offices here in the east bay, and have been somewhat obsessed with it ever since. If you thought almond butter toast was pretty snappy, just try switching up your schmear tactics and taste the difference for yourself. A subtly bitter edge offsets its sticky decadence, lending a far more nuanced flavor profile than one might expect from this silky-smooth, raw puree.

Not to throw shade on Black Friday, but it only wishes it was half as dark as this hearty concoction of black lentils, black beans, black cocoa, and of course, black tahini. Get a healthier fix this “holiday” and save your dollars for the important things that really matter… Like more sesame paste to prepare a second round, perhaps?

Blackout Sesame Chili

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, Diced
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 (14.5-Ounce) Can Diced Tomatoes
1 (6-Ounce) Can Tomato Paste
1 1/2 Cups Dry Black Beluga Lentils
1 (16-Ounce) Can Stout Beer
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
2 Tablespoons Black Cocoa Powder
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Chipotle Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 Cup Black Tahini
2 (15.5-Ounce) Cans Black Beans, Rinsed and Drained
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Teaspoon Salt

To Garnish (optional):

1 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
3 – 4 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Toasted Black Sesame Seeds

Place a large stock pot over medium heat and add in the oil. Once shimmer, add the onion and garlic, sauteing until lightly browned and aromatic; about 6 – 8 minutes. Introduce the diced tomatoes and tomato paste next, working the paste into the scant liquid to break it down into a smooth mixture. Next, incorporate the lentils, beer, vegetable stock, maple syrup, chili powder, black cocoa, cumin, chipotle powder, and cayenne. Stir well to combine, cover, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, until lentils are tender. Add tahini and black beans, mixing well to incorporate. Continue to stew, uncovered, for an additional 15 – 20 minutes until thick, rich, and piping hot. Add the lime juice and salt, adjusting both to taste as needed.

Depending on your desired consistency, you may want to add more vegetable stock or water, particularly if the chili is made in advance. It tends to thicken further as it cools.

Ladle out into bowls and top with sour cream, scallions, and black sesame seeds. Eat to your black heart’s content!

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

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Poached Trade

At their bare essentials, all holidays are based around eating and drinking to some degree, but none more so than Thanksgiving. In fact, it’s the main event! Without the gluttonous, butter-soaked spread, it would be just another family meal. Our excuse is that we’re merely celebrating the great bounty we’re so fortunate to receive, but somewhere along the line, it becomes a battle between man and sweatpants, seeing which will give under the pressure first.

Today, I would like to offer you the antidote to that over-the-top indulgence, in the form of a persimmon. Elegant simplicity defines this plate; more of a procedure than a full recipe, the most essential step is one not written in the instructions. Start with only the very best fruit, or don’t bother starting at all.

I would never suggest that such a humble dessert, delicious as it may be, could ever replace the traditional slab of pumpkin or pecan pie. Rather, consider each one a sweet little snack that’s something extra special for the occasion. Serve these dainty orange orbs midday to stave off that familiar, gnawing hunger while dinner slowly roasts to prevent the inevitable frenzied binge. Alternatively, save them for the following day when those sticky, crumbly, half-eaten pies aren’t nearly so appealing.

Poached Persimmons

5 Fuyu Persimmons, Stemmed and Peeled
3 Cups Pineapple Juice
2 Tablespoons Dark Rum
2 Inches Fresh Ginger, Sliced
1 Vanilla Bean, Split
Zest of 1 Orange, Peeled Off in Strips
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch

Whipped Ginger Fluff:

1/4 Cup Aquafaba
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

5 Tablespoons Toasted Pistachios, for Garnish

Core out the persimmons, removing the calyxes, and peel. Place them in a medium saucepan along with the pineapple juice, rum, fresh ginger, vanilla bean, and orange zest. Bring the liquid up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and gently cook for 20 – 30 minutes, until the fruits are fork-tender.

Remove the persimmons with a slotted spoon, leaving the excess poaching liquid behind in the pan. Remove and discard the ginger pieces, spent vanilla bean, and orange peel. Whisk in the cornstarch and return it to the heat. Bring the mixture back to a boil, whisking periodically, until thickened. Set aside.

When you’re ready to make the fluff, begin whipping the aquafaba in your stand mixer on low. Gradually increase the speed all the way to the highest setting and slowly begin adding the sugar and ginger together. Once incorporated, add in the vanilla. Continue whipping for about 10 minutes, until light and fluffy.

To serve, spoon a dollop of the ginger fluff on top of each persimmon and top with a tablespoon of the pistachios. Divide the sauce equally between the plates and enjoy warm.

Makes 5 Servings

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