BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Thai One On For Size

What is your personal litmus test when judging a new restaurant? Is it the spaghetti marinara at a place touting homemade pasta? The scallion pancakes at a dim sum joint? Hopefully it’s something common, found across all menus, to best compare, since the simplest dishes are the most telling. It takes attention to detail, consideration for ingredients, and true skill to make the basics stand out within a sea of similar options. Perhaps it’s unfair to appraise an eatery based on their drinks, but for me, Thai restaurants live or die by their Thai tea.

Traditionally made with copious amounts of syrupy dairy mixed in, simply finding a vegan brew can be quite a feat. If you’re willing to swap coconut milk and sugar for the sweetened condensed milk, you’ve already won a gold star by my assessment. Honestly, it doesn’t take much to convert this special treat, and yet surprisingly few think to offer such flexibility in the first place. It wouldn’t be such an issue if I could just whip up a big pot of it at home, but like all things that seem deceptively simple, hitting those same sweet, subtly spicy notes had proven elusive through exhaustive trials.

Mixes exist for those who want the authentic flavor without any of the extra work, but there’s no way around those pesky artificial colors. While I can’t promise that my unique blend would pass the standard litmus test, I’m quite pleased to say that it will do the trick when a craving hits.

That’s especially true when those same flavors enliven a cool and refreshing glass of chia pudding. Coconut milk thickened with yogurt and sweetened with a restrained hand top off this healthy reinterpretation, suitable for breakfast, snack, and dessert alike. Celyon or assam tea would be most traditional for this application, if you can get your hands on either, but let’s be honest: True “authenticity” goes out the window as soon as a home cook picks up the whisk. In this case, I’d argue that might be a very good thing indeed.

No one will think that this take on Thai tea came from the latest and greatest restaurant on the block, but it sure does satisfy the craving in a whole new way.

Thai Tea Chia Parfaits

3 1/2 Cups Water
1 Tablespoon Black Tea
1 Tablespoon Rooibos Tea
1 Whole Star Anise
1 Green Cardamom Pod
2 Whole Cloves
1/2 Teaspoon Tamarind Concentrate
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/2 Cup Coconut Palm Sugar or Light Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Cup Whole Chia Seeds

1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Cup Vegan Vanilla Coconut Milk Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar

To make the pudding, you’ll first need to make strongly brewed of Thai tea. You’re welcome to use a prepared mix in place of the tea leaves and spices, but for anyone who doesn’t have access to such luxuries or doesn’t have it on hand in time to satisfy urgent cravings, this blend of black and rooibos tea will do the trick. Heat the water in a medium saucepan along with both teas. Lightly smash the whole spices with the side of your knife to help release their flavors before adding them all in, along with the tamarind concentrate and turmeric. Cover and bring the mixture just to the brink of boiling.

Stir in the sugar, turn off the heat, and keep covered. Let steep for at least 30 minutes, undisturbed. The longer the tea steeps, the more flavorful it will be, but let it sit for no more than 2 hours to prevent the more bitter compounds of the tea from being released.

Strain out the leaves and whole spices before stirring in the vanilla extract and chia seeds. Let the chia seeds begin to hydrate and absorb the liquid, and stir again after 15 minutes to break up any clumps. Divide the mixture between 4 – 6 glasses and place them into the fridge. Chill thoroughly, for at least 2 – 3 hours, before serving.

Right before serving, mix together the coconut milk, yogurt, and agave. Drizzle it over the top of each chia pudding and lightly swirl it in. Don’t blend it entirely for the most striking effect, and the most satisfying flavor contrast.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe

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On a Roll

Tender. Gooey. Buttery. Decadent.

The very best cinnamon rolls are defined by these words. They should be rich, no-holds-barred indulgences, dripping with liquefied cinnamon sugar and redolent of the eponymous spice. One bite should be enough to sustain an athlete for a day, and yet that seductive sweetness makes it impossible to leave a single crumb, no matter the size of the bun. The inevitable sugar rush and crash that follows is always worth the pain, but does it truly have to be that way? After one such an experience, head reeling and fingers still sticky, I couldn’t help but seek out a better option.

Clearly, I’m not the only one looking for that sweet satisfaction without such a deleterious impact. Pro(Zero), makers of my current favorite protein powders, have just unleashed a new Cinnamon Roll flavor, proving that you really can have your cake and eat it, too- Or, cinnamon roll, as it were. Naturally, I still had to take it one step further and craft a true baked rendition to bring the cinnamon-spiced concept full circle.

I’m not usually one to toot my own horn, but it needs to be said: These exceeded my wildest sugar-encrusted dreams. Soft, supple, and impossibly rich, these treats can roll with the big boys. They’re not sad imposters of the real that would necessitate a warning label of being “healthier” alternatives, but wholly gratifying desserts in their own rights. In sum: Toot!

Why reach for another dry, shrink-wrapped protein bar when you can have a luscious cinnamon roll instead? As far as I’m concerned, baked goods are the new health foods now.

Protein Cinnamon Rolls

Protein Dough:

1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Packet (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
3 – 3 1/2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Pro(Zero) Cinnamon Roll Protein Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt

Cinnamon Filling:

1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil, Melted
1/3 Cup Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon

Cream Cheese Protein Icing:

1/4 Cup Vegan Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Cinnamon Bun Protein Powder
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1 – 3 Tablespoons Water

Heat your non-dairy milk in a microwave safe bowl for just a minute to warm, but do not bring it to a boil. Stir in the yeast and let is sit for about 5 minutes until frothy and active. Once re-awakened, pour the yeast mixture into your stand mixer, along with the olive oil and agave. Mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the first 3 cups of flour, protein powder, and salt. Make sure that all the dry goods are thoroughly distributed before adding them into the liquid mixture. Beginning at the lowest speed, use the dough hook to slowly combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to keep everything incorporated, until the dough forms a cohesive ball. If it still seems excessively wet, add up to 1/2 cup of flour. Bear in mind that the protein powder will continue to absorb liquid, so give it some time to fully hydrate.

Let the mixer continue to knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. You could also knead it by hand; just take 15 – 20 minutes to do so instead. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic, and let rest in a warm area for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Roll it out into a rectangle of about 14 x 18 inches. Brush evenly with the melted coconut oil. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl before sprinkling the mixture over the entire surface. Starting from one of the shorter ends, roll the rectangle up as tightly as possible, pinching the seam shut when you reach the other end.

Use a very sharp knife to cut the roll into approximately 1 1/2-inch pieces. You can either bake them individually in lightly greased muffin tins or together in two 8-inch round cake pans. If baking them in groups, try spacing them as evenly as possible. You can begin preheating your oven to 350 degrees at this point, and allow the rolls to rise for 45 – 60 minutes before baking.

Bake for 25 – 35 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before icing.

To make the icing, simply mix all of the ingredients together, stirring until completely smooth, adding more or less water depending on how thick you want the mixture. Less will give you something closer to a pipeable frosting, while more will create a thinner type of glaze. Bear in mind that the mixture will continue to thicken as it sits.

Makes About 12 Cinnamon Rolls

Printable Recipe

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


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Neither Fish Nor Fowl

Contrary to popular belief, ceviche needn’t include any seafood to be considered “authentic,” or more importantly, to be considered delicious. One of many dishes with murky origins, it’s largely credited to the Peruvians, but it made its mark on cultures across all continents. If one were to look at the Latin etymology, it would simply mean “food for men and animals;” an ambiguous free-for-all with very little meaning other than the fact that it was, indeed, edible. Turning to Arabic, we see the foundation for “cooking in vinegar.” Persian would agree, going further to suggest that it was a “vinegar soup.” Sure, fish or meat was almost always invited to the party, but that doesn’t mean it was essential to the soul of the dish.

Scores of creative ceviches abound, plant-based and seasoned with a wide palate of different cultural perspectives. The most successful ones that I’ve come across take texture into account even before the flavor is considered, as backwards as that may sound. Few people realize just how much of the eating experience comes down to texture, which is why ceviche is a particularly fascinating preparation to experiment with. As long as it has a somewhat meaty yet springy texture that approximates something like shrimp or calamari, accompanied by a brightly acidic twang, you can craft a highly satisfying vegan rendition, no questions asked. Thus, upon biting into a fresh, juicy lychee, inspiration for a new approach struck me like lightning.

As the rest of the country starts hunting through their closets for long-forgotten sweaters and scarves, predictably, the bay area is forced to start shedding layers. The heat continues to skyrocket and the only thing I want to eat is something quick, cold, and satisfying. Ceviche fits neatly into that definition, no matter what else you consider essential. Packing it with buttery avocados and young coconut meat adds richness to this otherwise very lean preparation, fit for either a light meal or a good snack. Packed with crisp vegetables, everything is open to interpretation based on your personal tastes and accessibility. Want to mix it up? Consider ripe tomatoes, cubed watermelon, fresh corn, marinated mushrooms, chunks of fried plantain, or even steamed sweet potatoes, just for starters. Borrow from as many different cultures as you like; for ceviche, as long as it’s cold and raw, pretty much anything goes.

The only inviolable rule is to use ONLY fresh lychees, and I must be adamant about that. Canned can never compare, possessing both an unnatural sweetness and unpleasantly sour, metallic aftertaste. If you can’t find fresh, just double up on the coconut, and choose your own vegetable adventure from there.

Island Breeze Lychee Ceviche

10 – 12 Fresh Lychees, Peeled, Pitted, and Quartered (About 2/3 Cup)
1 Fresh Young Thai Coconut, Meat Removed and Diced
1/2 Large Cucumber, Peeled and Seeded
1 Small Avocado, Diced
3 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Pineapple Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 tablespoon Vegan Fish Sauce or Soy Sauce
1 Red Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely Minced
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Cilantro, Roughly Chopped
Salt, to Taste

To prepare ceviche, you shouldn’t really need written instructions to break it down, but here goes: Toss everything together in a large bowl except for the salt, cover, and let marinate in the refrigerator for 15 – 30 minutes. Season with salt to taste and serve thoroughly chilled, with crackers if desired.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Hip To Be Shared

Puffed snacks represent the pinnacle of junk food innovation and technology. No matter how hard you try, there’s simply no way to replicate that characteristically light, airy, yet impossibly crisp texture at home; trust me, I’ve gone through the ringer in my own kitchen, to no avail. Coated in powdered cheese of varying fluorescence hues, the salty morsels have been staining fingers since the 1930s but never gained much traction among the nutritionally conscious. That should come as no surprise, since questionable oils and highly processed dairy ingredients have long been the “best” that these salty treats could offer.

Hippeas is a new company set to change all that, turning away from the traditional corn base and towards one composed of everyone’s favorite legume: the chickpea.

Much more substantial than your typical puffed snack, each kernel boasts a sturdy, satisfying crunch, backed by impressive protein and fiber values. Unlike the Styrofoam whips of yore, one serving really will do… Although the tempting flavors might convince you keep munching.

Six unique seasonings offer a different taste for every craving. Cheese is the gold standard, the essential foundation of the puffed snack hierarchy, so the Vegan White Cheddar has very high expectations to live up to. While the overall effect doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t entirely deliver either. Evoking the flavor profile of creamy mac and cheese, it will certainly scratch that savory itch, but an incongruous sweetness detracts from the experience. Simply put, they’re highly enjoyable, but would never fool an omnivore.

Where Hippeas shine is in their more creative offerings that make no allusions to imitation. Delicious within their own right as a completely unique snack, the Far Out Fajita was the stand-out winner by my account. Cumin and coriander ring clearest out of the seasoning melange, imparting a Tex-Mex vibe. Further munching evoked the flavors of crunchy falafel, which made me think they would pair brilliantly with a bold tahini dip.

Pepper Power presents a strong showing for the most basic option. Thoroughly flecked with ground black pepper, each bite provides a nice balance of spice and salt, creating a subtle warmth that doesn’t overwhelm. By contrast, Sriracha Sunshine takes a bolder approach, but falls far short of its scoville target. The initial taste is of vinegar, with a timid heat following quietly, slow to build up steam. Excess sweetness brings down the spice considerably for these morsels, but in the case of Happenin’ Hickory, that same quality creates a pleasing balance. Accented with tomato, onion, and garlic, the overall effect delivers the impression of barbecue sauce more than pure hickory smoke, but is highly munchable nonetheless.

For those with a sweet tooth, Hippeas has something for you, too! The taste of Maple Haze rings true for pancake syrup with subtle buttery undertones. Take a bag with you to the theater next time; I think they’d make delightful alternative to caramel corn.

The full line of Hippeas aren’t perfect across the board, but one thing is for sure: They’ve mastered the elusive ways of the puff, and taken the “junk” out of this particular junk food favorite. There’s a whole lot to savor if you stick with the top hits.


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Grow, Grow, Grow Your Boat

If you’re growing zucchini in your backyard garden, or if any neighbors within a 10 mile radius are, there’s a good chance that you’re up to your ears in green squash by now. Even weeds aren’t as vigorous in most cases, crowded out by masses of tangled vines heavy with fruit and flowers. Although impressively versatile, swapping loyalties from sweet to savory associations at the drop of the hat, playing the backup or the lead singer with equal grace, there comes a point when it’s hard to contemplate another plate of the stuff. I’ve seen a particularly prolific garden down the street where zucchini line the porch, free for the taking. One of them has grown so large that it now sits regally in the deck chair, presiding over the others like a monarch, complete with a rather handsome straw hat atop its crown.

When faced with such zucchini abundance, my default answer is to bust out the trusty old spiralizer. No cooking, no muss, no fuss, and you’ve got a pile of crisp green noodles to dress up or down as you please. That’s all well and good for the average sized squash, but once you get a full pound of flesh in every squash, even the spiralizer can’t save you anymore.

Zucchini bread is a classic approach to tackling this kind of glut, but for these extenuating circumstances, it still isn’t enough. No, this calls for a full-frontal zucchini exposé, not just a handful of shreds hidden within a loaf of quick bread. Drawing inspiration from the ever-popular concept of stuffed zucchini instead, all it takes is a few simple ingredient swaps, and you’ve got a bona fide, zuchini-fied dessert worthy of any summer’s harvest.

Hollowed out and refilled with a luscious mixture of spiced bread pudding, those once unlovable giant Italian squash will finally get the praise they’re due. Never again turn away those extra-large options, claiming their interiors to be “too seedy” to be any good- A familiar refrain that I’ll admit I’m guilty of saying as well. Like any bread pudding worth its salt (or sugar, as it were) the add-ins are entirely flexible based on personal preferences. Go crazy with your favorite nut, try out different dried fruits, or go ahead, double down on the chocolate chips and indulge your inner chocoholic.

Though they don’t make for great eating in this application, there’s still no reason to toss the zucchini innards! Try chopping them up and simmer them in marinara sauce or blend them into just about any soup, for starters. You’re only limited by what your garden can produce, and if your situation is looking anything like mine, there will be quite a bit more zucchini still to come, ripe for experimentation.

Zucchini Bread Pudding Boats

2 Large Zucchini (About 1 Pound Each)
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 1/2 Tablespoons Cornstarch, Divided
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3 Ounces Sourdough or French Bread, Cut into 1/4-Inch Cubes (About 1 1/2 Cups)
1/2 Cup Raisins or Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Toasted Pecans, Chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out the seedy interiors, leaving 1/2 – 3/4 centimeter around the border to support the boat. A thin spoon should do the trick just fine, but if you’re having trouble, try an ice cream scoop instead. Place the zucchini with the cut sides up on your prepared baking sheet and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, whisk together the non-dairy milk, brown sugar, 1/2 tablespoon of the cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring frequently. Add in the vegan butter or coconut oil along with the vanilla, mix to incorporate and turn off the heat. Let cool for 10 minutes before proceeding.

In a large bowl, toss together the bread, raisins and/or chocolate chips, and nuts with the remaining tablespoon of cornstarch. Once thoroughly coated, pour in the liquid ingredients and stir thoroughly to combine. Spoon the bread pudding mixture into your waiting zucchini boats, dividing it equally between the four halves. Don’t be afraid to mound it up in the centers!

Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the zucchini is fork-tender. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Silent Sunday: Rawsome Eats

Dark Side of the Shroom from Judahlicious, San Francisco, CA

Cali Roll from Au Lac, Los Angeles, California

Raw Bruschetta from Counter Culture, Austin, TX

Thai Zucchini Linguine from Core Kitchen, Oakland, CA

Acai Banana Soft Serve from Banán, Honolulu, HI

Sweet and Savory Flaxseed Cones from Raw Daddy, Bay Area, CA


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Lazy Day Luxuries

Browsing through the latest issue of a prominent food magazine, the leading sentence of yet another summer recipe round up grabbed me by the throat. Proclaiming August the “laziest month,” it struck me as a particularly bold declaration, forcing me to consider how plausible such a blanket statement might actually be. When else would we, collectively as a workaholic society, sneak out of the office sooner, take longer siestas, or justify more extended weekend adventures? December would be a close contender, but when you factor in the stress of holidays and family obligations, it’s clearly out of the running. Perhaps they’re right; perhaps August does take the cake for stringing together the most laid-back, unhurried days on the calendar.

So, as July inevitably slips through our fingers, it’s time to batten down the hatches and prepare to seriously take it slow. I’m all about minimal effort resulting in maximum impact, which is why I can’t get enough of The Blender Girl‘s raw key lime pudding.

It first graced my hot and humid east coast kitchen a number of years ago and has become an annual summer staple ever since. It’s baffling that I somehow neglected to include it in my initial review of her brilliant cookbook, but I suppose I was subconsciously saving it for the more languorous days that best suit the no-muss, no-fuss preparation.

I’ve barely done anything to the original formula, which only goes to show what a solid recipe Tess has concocted here. I’ve never gone out of my way to actually use key limes, and yet it still bears a sprightly, zesty flavor thanks to the balance between standard limes and lemons. I’d venture to say that adding a touch of grapefruit to the party might be a delightfully tangy addition, too. It’s a good thing we have the whole month of August ahead of us- I’ll undoubtedly have many more batches of this refreshing raw treat to experiment with.

Raw “Key Lime” Pudding
Modified slightly from The Blender Girl Cookbook by Tess Masters

1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Lime Juice
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
2 Medium-Sized, Ripe Avocados, Pitted and Peeled
2 Medium-Sized, Ripe Bananas, Chopped
1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lime Zest
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

It’s easy enough to figure out how this one comes together, but in case you need some hand-holding, here’s how it all goes down: Throw everything into your blender and process until completely smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container if needed. Transfer to four individual glasses or ramekins, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, until chilled. Serve the same day to prevent browning.

Makes 4 Servings

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