BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Go Fourth and Conquer

Fellow Americans, arm yourselves with a cold beverage and prepare for the party of the summer! If you’re really on the ball, you’ve already checked out of work and are easing into a full four day weekend, packed with all the things that make this country great: Explosions, drunken revelry, and more food than you can comfortably consume but still manage to, heartily. It’s a no-holds-barred celebration of summer, and I believe that very same free spirit should apply to the menu, no matter what your specific plans are. Whether you’re planning a low-key affair with just a few friends, a giant neighborhood bash that includes a couple of zip codes, or some very patriotic Netflix and chill alone, this is not an event that calls for culinary frippery. Leave the recipes in the kitchen, but take these ideas to the celebration.

Potato salad is pretty much mandatory, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be larded up with a thick miasma of creamy dressing and unidentifiable “vegetables.” Rather, try out a vinaigrette version and think of more flavorful additions. Some of my favorites include caramelized onions, thinly shaved fennel, olives or capers for some briny goodness, and meatless bacon of any variety. It doesn’t take too much to make it shine, so keep it to 5 inclusions at the most and don’t overthink this one.

Corn, one of the only crops indigenous to North America, is another friend that must be invited to join the fun. The absolute freshest sweet corn is a joy to eat cold and raw, but if you live more than 1 hour away from the fields, toss your ears on the grill for a real treat. Take a page from elote and slather it vegan mayo, sprinkle generously with paprika and nutritional yeast, and finish it off with a squeeze of lime. Eaten straight off the cob, it will be incredibly delicious and extremely messy if done right.

Anything on a stick. (Seen here: shishito peppers.) Enough said.

As many dips as you have chips! My vote goes for hummus or guacamole, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be plain. Dress up your chickpea spreads with spinach or artichokes to recall some of that old school flavor, or go bold and douse your guac with a generous squeeze of sriracha.

Though they may be “traditional” mains, skip the hot dogs and hamburgers this year. Instead, stuff some fresh veggies and celebrate the height of growing season here in the states. Any sort of grains and beans make fine fodder here, with bell peppers or zucchini serving as prime vessels, and you can even wrap them up and toss them on the grill, too.

For dessert, all you need is fruit. Yes, really, coming from the sweet-toothed baker, take my word for it! Something light, sweet, cold, and refreshing will hit the spot after a day out in the sun. The only acceptable alternative is ice cream, because really, when is ice cream ever a bad idea?

There you have it: A plan of attack suitable for the laziest of citizens, because working hard on this weekend of rest would be downright un-American. Happy Birthday, America! You’re looking pretty fine for all your 240 years.


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A Cookie for Every Craving

Whether you’ve baked a dozen batches of every cookie bookmarked in your recipe file or have yet to fire up the oven, it’s never too late to squeeze in another sweet option. Especially true around the holidays, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season than with a few homemade morsels of sweetness. The possibilities are simply endless, taking form in every shape under the sun, boasting colors and flavors previously beyond the scope of imagination. Even if you have a game plan all set out for your festive gifts, desserts, and midnight snacks, it’s never to late to add a few more recipes to that list.

This is especially true when you’re talking about the winners of the annual VegNews Holiday Cookie Contest. Certified delicious by a panel of discerning sweet teeth, I was tasked with an assignment of significant import: Photographing the top three victorious treats. Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

In third place, the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies by Alison Sullivan sparkle with the warm spices and rich chocolate flavor. The only thing better than enjoying one still warm out of the oven would be to pair it with a cup of the eponymous beverage itself.

Coming in at second place, the Gingerbread Fudge Buttons by Anna Jurik are real beauties to behold. Luscious pools of melted chocolate resting in tender gingerbread cups, these options are sure to shine on any cookie platter.

Taking the grand prize in first place, it’s easy to see why the Salted Caramel Cookies by Michelle Norton took the cake- Or cookie, as it were. Dangerously easy to whip up, this sweet and salty combination hits all the high notes in every soft, chewy bite. Just try and leave a single one out for Santa, I dare you!

No matter how you decide to celebrate the holiday, or not, be sure to make it sweet. Have a happy everything!


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Ugly but Tasty

Though it’s a quality often possessed by the most delicious meals and one that I passionately embrace in my daily menu, ugliness can be the kiss of death for a new recipe. Creations so unsightly that no amount of careful prop styling nor Photoshopping can disguise, countless innocent dishes have met their end, sacrificed in the name of vanity and not in good taste. For this conceit, I must apologize, my dear readers. It’s a personal shortfall that I couldn’t look beyond a bad photo shoot for so many homely, but tasty, pursuits.

Thank goodness for recipe tasters. Even when I’ve written something off as unexceptional, imperfect, and most commonly of all, unphotogenic, there are passionate eaters in my life outspoken enough to rescue those edible gems from certain doom. One of the most “famous” cases was that of the Frankenstorm Pie; quickly thrown together without any recipe at all, it was only due to the begging and pleading of the recipients that it was even recorded in any format to begin with, let alone make the final cut for the pages of Easy as Vegan Pie.

By some small miracle and number of very vocal recipients, one of last year’s holiday gifts was rescued from a similar fate. Inspired by the traditional rum ball, these potent little treats may be sorely lacking in the beauty department, but the flavor sure won’t leave you wanting. Spiked with a heady dose of both mint and coffee liqueurs, they were originally dubbed “Boozy Peppermint Mocha Balls,” but the only way I could think to improve their image problem was to further finesse the moniker, at the very least.

Just think of these little morsels as the adult version of a peppermint mocha latte in candy form, and for maximum enjoyment, don’t waste too much time admiring their good looks… Or lack thereof.

Spiked Peppermint Mocha Bites

2 1/2 (12-Ounce) Packages Peppermint Joe-Joe’s or Mint Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (30 Ounces Total)
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar, Divided
1/4 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup (6 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Cup Kahlua or Any Other Coffee Liqueur
1/4 Cup Creme de Menthe or Any Other Mint Liqueur

Place the minty sandwich cookies of your choice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “s” blade, and pulse until very finely ground. Don’t worry about a few larger pieces; the extra texture is a nice addition. Introduce 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar, instant coffee, and salt next, pulse briefly to incorporate.

In a microwave-safe dish, combine the chocolate and maple syrup, and heat for 60 seconds. Let stand for another minute before stirring thoroughly, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Add the liquid chocolate into the food processor along with both liqueurs. Pulse again until the mixture is more or less homogeneous, with no particular dry or wet patches.

Scoop out a heaping tablespoon for each bite, roll firmly but gently into a ball between your palms, and toss in the remaining cup of confectioner’s sugar to coat. Repeat until all of the cookie mixture is used up, and work quickly; it becomes increasingly difficult to shape as the chocolate cools. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week, or in the fridge for up to a month… If you can manage to ignore them for that long.

Makes 5 – 6 Dozen Bites

Printable Recipe


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Decadent Delicata

Hannukah is NOT the time to embark on some radical new low-fat diet. No matter where you believe lipids belong on your own personal food pyramid, oil is hero of this holiday, and the substance we all celebrate. From the oil in the miraculously burning lamps to the oil frying our food, the stuff has left its gloriously greasy residue all over this joyous event. This is the one rare time of year that we’re implored to ignore conventional nutritional advice and fry, fry again.

That’s not to say that just any old grease ball on a plate will suffice. Typical holiday fare turns starchy potatoes into crisp latkes and yeasted dough into jelly-stuffed sufganiyot. Dessert is where things get interesting, as the number of acceptable permutations for those requisite oily cakes hovers somewhere in the thousands. Latkes, on the other hand, are either right (however your grandma made them) or wrong (everything else.)

So on this occasion I throw caution to the wind along with another decadent treat into the vat of angrily bubbling oil. If there ever was such a thing as a “healthy” doughnut, laughable baked versions notwithstanding, it would unarguably be one made of a vegetable.

Inspired by their naturally alluring rings, simple sliced delicata squash stand in for the carbohydrate portion of the program, replacing the predictably dense dough with tender, subtly nuanced, pumpkin-like flesh. Far more flavorful than the bread-based default, it wins the battle for ease of preparation as well; the thin green skin needn’t be peeled, so just slice, remove the seeds, and you’re well on your way to an entirely new sweet holiday sensation.

Lightly battered and graced by a crunchy coating of simple cinnamon sugar, it’s hard to believe that such decadent treats are little more than plain squash rings dressed up in their finest. While you won’t fool any vegetable haters into confusing these for traditional doughnuts, you may just win them over.

Take it one step further still with a luxurious glaze of apple cider icing, redolent of the orchards on a brisk fall day. Reducing the cider does take a bit of patience, but every extra minute is well worth the wait. These dainty iced doughnuts are always the first to disappear.

Delicata Doughnuts

1 Medium (A Little Over 1 Pound) Delicata Squash
3/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Starch
2 Tablespoons Chickpea Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
3/4 Cup Water

Neutral Oil for Frying, such as Rice Bran or Canola

Cinnamon Sugar:

1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon

Cider Icing:

2 Cups Unfiltered Apple Cider
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar

To begin, fill a large saucepan about 1/3 full with your neutral oil of choice and heat to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, thoroughly wash and dry your delicate before slicing it into 1/2-inch thick rings. Clean out the inner guts and seeds by either scraping it with a spoon, or using small round cookie cutters to punch out the stringy innards.

Prepare the batter by simply whisking together all of the dry ingredients before slowly adding in the water. Whisk just until the mixture is smooth. Separately, stir together the cinnamon and sugar topping in a medium bowl, and set aside.

For the glaze, place the apple cider in a small sauce pan and simmer until it has reduce to a mere 1/4 cup. Add in the vanilla and confectioner’s sugar, stirring until perfectly smooth and lump-free. Set aside.

When the oil has come up to the right temperature, dip the delicata rings into batter one at a time, letting the excess drip off. Carefully lower them into the hot oil, cooking no more than two or three at a time, depending on the size of your pot. Let them cook undisturbed for about a minute before turning, flipping them frequently from that point onward to monitor browning. When the rings are evenly golden brown all over, use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer them to a wire rack. While still warm, toss them individually in the cinnamon sugar, if using. If using the cider icing, let the donuts cool just until you can comfortably handle them, and gently dip the tops into the prepared glaze.

Best eaten as soon as possible!

Makes 10 – 14 Doughnuts

Printable Recipe


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The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

Who hasn’t landed on a lavishly curated new blog, garnished with extravagant photos tucked between every mouthwatering paragraph, and cursed the fact that the potential for smell-o-vision technology has not been fully realized yet? Better yet, where are those edible 3-D printer inks when you need them? It’s the best and worst aspects of the blogosphere that are inseparable: Inspiring recipes from all corners of the globe can be instantly beamed into your home, but the ferocious hunger that they incite cannot be be satisfied by mere visuals alone. Although this far-flung community is closer than many social groups in real life, it’s hard to bridge that physical gap when you can’t just reach out and share a cookie with your friends.

Thus, the annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap is nothing short of a holiday miracle. Started in 2011, I only regret jumping onto this bandwagon so late in the game. Imagining the joy that my own homemade cookies might spread, the moments that their sweetness might brighten, kept my oven churning even through the stress of work deadlines. Finally having like-minded recipients for my sugared creations was a singular thrill, but admittedly, it wasn’t my only motivation. Tired of winter dinner parties where all meals ended with a cacophony of eggs and butter, I wanted some special holiday cookies for myself, gosh darn it!

Sending out three carefully wrapped parcels and anticipating three others in return, my already lofty expectations were far exceeded by the sweetness soon to arrive.

The Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies from Happy To Be a Table of Two were the first guests to check in at this sugar-fueled gathering. The brilliant aroma of chocolate and cinnamon mingled in the air before the zip-lock bag was even unsealed, and I knew I would be in for a treat. Tender, soft, and supple, each generous round was the perfect texture, made even more impressive due to the time and travel involved. Every bite packs in an ideal amount of chips to add bursts of rich chocolate flavor without dominating the whole cookie. A delightful combination of flavors that seems well suited for all seasons, this is one recipe I’m definitely adding into my collection.

The next, truly outstanding creation came courtesy of Loose Leaf Vegan. Her impeccable Chai Thumbprint Cookies rang with a measured balance of salt and spices, culminating in luscious pools of toothsome fudge on top. Supported by a pillow-y yet satisfyingly dense base, the rich chocolate filling absolutely put these morsels over the top. I’m afraid you’ll just have to take my word for it though, since I selfishly horded, and have since eaten, every last cookie by myself. The baked beauties are just too good to share.

Unfortunately, the final package didn’t fare as well in the hands of our good old postal system. Delivered with a resounding thud at the front door, it’s no surprise that the contents were crumbled to almost indistinguishable grains of sand. At least two or three good bites survived intact, and I was still able to savor the Orange Almond Cookies and Chocolate Vanilla Swirl Cookies baked by Not So Cheesy Kitchen. Of the two buttery shortbread cookies, I was particularly fond of the subtle citrus notes in the former. Though I could have eaten a boxful in that one sitting, I was happy to get a fine sampling all the same.

As for my own contribution to this grand exchange, I shared a few dozen Speculoos (AKA Cookie Butter) Pinwheel Cookies. Rolled with a stripe of chocolate dough, the trendy brown sugar and cinnamon spread sings with harmonious contrasting tastes. That recipe is one I’ve shared with Go Dairy Free, so please pop on over there to grab the details.

This was my very first cookie swap of any sort, and I can tell you without hesitation that it certainly won’t be my last.


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Uncommon Excellence

‘Tis the season of giving, although in this modern age it may be more accurate to say that it’s the season of shopping. Judging by the influx of gift guides already lining the pages of blogs both big and small, I’d have to assume that everyone already has more ideas for their holiday handouts than they know what to do with. If you’re anything like me though, these lists serve not to inspire better offerings to share with loved ones, but to capture my own desires. No matter if I’m looking at suggestions geared towards photographers or lumberjacks, I promise you I’ll find at least one purchase to add to my personal wish list, coming up empty handed yet again for my family and friends. Am I just easy to please, or has it become more difficult to shop for others, with all of their particular preferences? Nothing ever seems like just the right kind of gift, balancing gracefully between the grey areas of useless junk and utilitarian items for work. How can I inject a bit of whimsy into the everyday, and where on earth can I find such a rarity?

The internet holds the key to solving this conundrum, of course. Online shopping has become an increasingly popular pursuit, if not a genuine sport at this point. Questions of quality still remain, and sketchy merchants can ruin the most thoughtfully planned out gifting procedure, so the real question isn’t “what should I buy” for the holidays, but “where should I buy from?” Well, allow me to introduce one of the most fun stores on the web: Uncommon Goods. Perhaps you’ve heard of it before, and rightly so. They’ve been in the biz for over 15 years and feature some of the most unique, charming offerings I’ve seen all in one place. They truly live up to their title, working with small artists to furnish their catalog with handmade, one-of-a-kind items along with fun gadgets and toys that you may not have seen before. They too have many gift suggestions built in for the well-meaning but clueless shopper, although of course I was immediately drawn to the dishware section instead.

Given a generous stipend to test out their services and report back on the results, I certainly did take away an incredible haul. Shipping out with speeds that rival the gold standard set by Amazon, I’d wager to say that their packing is even more secure. Despite the weight and fragility of my items, not a single piece was dinged, scratched, or anything less than ideal. So, what presents did I give myself for the holidays this year? Primarily, lots of rocks.

Stone slabs in the form of cheeseboards, to be more precise. The granite cheese board with spreader was my real trophy gift, a luxurious hunk of glossy granite complete with a charming wooden knife. The dark coloring was in sharp contrast to the photo featured online, but that variability only added to the appeal. Even if you’re ordering for yourself, you may be in for a happy surprise!

Another excellent pick for the host or hostess with everything would be the slate cheese board with soapstone chalk (chalk not pictured.) That rich burgundy stone is absolutely stunning, and such an unusual shade to find in the typically drab category of grey slate serving pieces. This is one versatile plate that will no doubt make many more appearances in my photos for years to come. Best of all, it provides a spacious 10×16-inches for all of your appetizer needs, making it a genuinely excellent value, especially compared to what you might find in comparable houseware boutiques.

Moving deeper into the pages of dishes and utensils, the udon noodle bowls captivated me at first sight. Beautifully crafted and a true pleasure to use, this is one of the rare pieces that enjoys a place both in my prop closet and on the dinner table. It’s a perfect example of form and function working together, creating a vessel that holds an ideal amount of noodle-y goodness with an ergonomic handle and built-in chopstick rest. My only regret is not purchasing one in every color.

Finally, as a fun little toy to play around with in the kitchen, my final choice is one that my loved ones will actually benefit from as well. Churning out dozens of holiday cookies for annual swaps and parties alike, mine are guaranteed to stand out from the pack this year thanks to my brand new customizable cookie stamp. Infinitely adaptable to all holidays an occasions, the edible messages that it creates are sure to impress- Yes, pun intended. My fool-proof gingerbread cut-out cookies have never looked better, and there’s certainly no mistaking who made these sweets, even amongst a mountain of homemade holiday desserts.

Rather than give you more lists to look up or my own favorite holiday selections, I just want to give you this entire website for inspiration. Better yet, I want to give you a bit of holiday cheer in the form of a $50 gift certificate to spend however you please in this wonderland of shopping. To enter, hop on over to Uncommon Goods and browse about. Tell me what you would order, and who you’re ordering for (I’ll admit, I’m just nosy and want to know!) Make sure you include your name and email in the appropriate boxes and log your response before midnight EST on December 15th. Sorry to my international friends, but you must be a resident of the US to enter.

Treat yourself, spoil your friends, indulge however you want just as long as you enjoy!

UPDATE: The entry period has ended and the good old random number generator has smiled upon one lucky reader. That person happens to be the owner of comment #24…

Panya! You’ve won the giveaway and will be hearing from the folks at Uncommon Goods shortly. For everyone else, don’t despair; the next opportunity to take home a fun or tasty prize package is never too far away, so stay tuned.

This post and giveaway was made possible by the kind folks at Uncommon Goods. All opinions, photos, and recipes are completely my own.


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The Last Last-Minute Gift

Browse around the web for five minutes or more and you’ll undoubtedly run across at least a dozen “last-minute gift guides,” all touting effortless tokens for the people you forgot you should care about. Heartwarming stuff to consider right before Christmas, isn’t it? Since Chanukah has been long over for weeks now, it’s strange to watch it all unfold from the sidelines, without getting swept up in the madness as I usually do each year.

Of course, I do still have one suggestion here at the eleventh hour, but I’ll level with you: This post is more for my benefit, but you might just enjoy the results, too. Why sit on this fabulous candy recipe for another full calendar cycle, holding it back through the austere days of the New Year while everyone suffers a collective sugar hangover? While your sweet tooth is still in gear, set aside a few extra minutes for this simple yet transcendent treat. I had merely wanted to play around with the gold-tinted crystals of Zulka sugar that the company had been kind enough to send my way, but the toffee that came of my kitchen capers was anything but ordinary.

My dad, a man who knows his way around all things candy and an avowed sugar-supporter if I ever did meet one, claimed that this was some of the best toffee he ever had. No small compliment coming from such a knowledgeable source! So, if you find even one inch of space remaining on your cookie plate, in your candy baskets, or simply in your stomach, take that last-minute before the holidays all blow over to make yourself a batch. If one crisp, golden, nutty morsel of toffee is the last sugary taste on your lips for the rest of 2013, it would leave you with a sweet memory of the season indeed.

Golden Macadamia Toffee

1 Cup Toasted, Lightly Chopped Macadamia Nuts
2/3 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Zulka Sugar
1 Tablespoon Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, lightly grease, and sprinkle the macadamia nuts and white chocolate chips as evenly over the bottom as possible. Set aside.

Combine the margarine, sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar, and then keep your spatula out of the mixture until the very end. Instead, swirl the pan gently to mix the contents, which will help prevent premature crystal formation.

Allow the margarine to melt and sugar to dissolve before clipping a thermometer to the side of the pan. You’ll want to bring the sugar to a steady boil, until it turns a deep amber brown color and reaches 300 degrees, which is also known as the “hard crack stage” of candy making.

Turn off the heat, carefully stir in the vanilla as it may sputter angrily, and immediately pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Try to pour it evenly over the goodies within, because the more you spread it around with your spatula, the more you’ll smear the melting white chocolate. Don’t worry if it doesn’t reach all the way to the edges of the pan.

Let cool completely before snapping into more manageable pieces. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Printable Recipe

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